Commissioner Adam Silver dropped the hammer on Donald Sterling Tuesday by banning the Los Angeles Clippers’ owner for life from the NBA after his racist remarks were leaked to the public. The unprecedented punishment also includes a $2.5 million fine and the promise to force a sale of the Clippers. Silver requires the votes of three-quarters of NBA owners to compel a sale. Silver’s comments at Tuesday’s press conference and the supporting statements from most owners suggest he has the votes, but this promises to be a complicated battle if Sterling fights the sale and all indications are that he will. There are serious legal and tax issues that need to be resolved. Sterling is also on record saying the club is not for sale.
There will be no shortage of bidders if the NBA and Sterling can work through these issues. The Clippers were a train wreck of a franchise for three decades, but have turned into one of the league’s marquee franchises behind stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The Clippers have had their three best records in franchise history the past three years and are regulars on national TV while packing the Staples Center. Top NBA franchises don’t come up for sale very often. Recent NBA sales for the Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans and Milwaukee Bucks were all for clubs that rank among the NBA’s least valuable. The Bucks have arguably the worst financial situation in the NBA and are in the process of being sold for an NBA-record $550 million.
Sterling paid $12.5 million for the Clippers in 1981. The team sale is going to crush the Bucks’ sale price and could reach $1 billion. The NBA is on the verge of signing a new national TV package that is expected to top $2 billion annually, compared to $930 million a year under the old deals. The Clippers local TV deal with Fox Sports expires after the 2015-16 season and will be renewed at a massive premium. The Los Angeles Lakers just kicked off a 20-year, $3.6 billion local deal with Time Warner Cable. The Clippers and Lakers have the NBA’s two longest tenured owners and an NBA franchise has not come up for sale in the L.A. market in more than 30 years. Southern California is loaded with wealthy sports fans that will pay through the nose to join the NBA’s exclusive club of owners. Here are some of the leading candidates to be the next owners of the Clippers ranked from highly unlikely to the favorites.
Mayweather threw his name in the ring Tuesday while talking to the media promoting his Saturday fight with Marcos Maidana in Las Vegas. “I called Al (Haymon) today about that to see if me, Leonard (Ellerbe) and Al, and hopefully Richard (Schaefer) and a couple of other guys, a couple other of my billionaire guys, we can come together and see what we can come up with,” Mayweather said. “Hopefully, we can do it, and it’s not just talk. Mayweather has made more than $350 million during his boxing career, but carries too much baggage to garner entry into the NBA club. A jail sentence for domestic violence, a penchant for gambling and his own racist rant against Manny Pacquiao are a few of the strikes against a bid involving Mayweather.
Oscar De La Hoya
De La Hoya retired as a boxer in 2009, and has built the biggest boxing promotion firm in the U.S. with the help of Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer. De La Hoya has a statue outside of the Staples Center, but that is likely to be as close as De La Hoya gets to Staples. He has his own baggage, including photos of him in fishnet stockings and multiple trips to rehab.
Crystal’s name has been bandied about by others. The comedian/actor and long-time Clippers superfan was asked this week about buying the team. He responded in jest: “We’re in negotiations.” Crystal owns a small piece of the Arizona Diamondbacks, but don’t expect him to be the Clippers boss.
The hedge fund manager partnered with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to try and bring the Sacramento Kings to Seattle with the promise of a new arena. He reached an agreement with the Kings’ owners in January 2013, but the relocation and sale were rejected after a Sacramento group led by Vivek Ranadive stepped in to buy the team. Hansen clearly wants an NBA team, but it is highly unlikely the NBA would approve a move by the Clippers to Seattle.
Real Estate tycoon Rick Caruso struck out in his bid to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers. He expressed interest this week in buying the Clippers. Caruso is often labeled a billionaire in the press, but he falls short of the Forbes billionaires list.
Henry Samueli (net worth $2 billion)
Samueli cofounded chipmaker Broadcom and bought the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks in 2005. He tried to lure the Kings to the Honda Center in Anaheim to fill the building with NBA dates, but was denied. The Clippers just signed a 10-year lease extension at the Staples Center, but Samueli could play the long game in hopes of the Clips making the short hop to Anaheim.
Larry Ellison (net worth: $49.3 billion)
The fifth richest man in the world made previous runs at buying the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Hornets, but was outbid both times. If the Clippers’ sale becomes a bidding war, no one has a bigger war chest than Ellison.
Patrick Soon-Shiong (net worth $9.8 billion)
The surgeon turned entrepreneur is the wealthiest resident of L.A. Magic Johnson sold his 4% stake in the Lakers to Soon-Shiong in 2010. Could he trade his purple and gold for red and royal blue?
David Geffen (net worth $6.2 billion)
The entertainment mogul told Forbes reporter Ryan Mac on Tuesday, “I would very much like to buy the team.” Geffen made a $700 million offer to buy the team in 2010, but was rebuffed. The price tag has definitely gone up.
Magic Johnson & Guggenheim Partners
Johnson has been a part of the Sterling story from the beginning. It was pictures of Sterling’s girlfriend with Johnson on Instagram that set Sterling off on his racist rant. Johnson and his financial backers, Guggenheim, are interested in buying the Clippers, according to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski. If interested, the Johnson group is the clear favorite. The NBA would love to bring Magic into the fold. He is royalty in NBA circles. The Johnson/Guggenheim group blew other bidders out of the water paying $2 billion for the Dodgers. Guggenheim would also love to get its hands on the Clippers for TV purposes. The Dodgers’ rich price tag was fueled by an expected local TV deal with Time Warner Cable, which eventually climbed to $8.5 billion. TWC is having trouble getting carriers to pick up the Dodgers’ new regional sports channel, but adding another team to the mix would make the channel more valuable.