Adam Silver’s banishment of Los Angeles Clippers owner from the NBA was the correct and just move, one that should have been administered years ago. Sterling is still the owner, though. He’ll be the owner after the NBA’s other 29 team owners band together to vote 29-0 to force Sterling to sell his team, and he’ll be the owner throughout the various lawsuits and courtroom defenses that the notoriously litigious Sterling will no doubt pursue as he desperately and pathetically and expectedly attempts to sustain what he thinks is his C-level stardom.
Though a recent Forbes valuation pitched the Clippers as being worth $575 million, many expect the Clippers to be the first NBA team sold for over $1 billion. The team’s prime location, sweetheart lease deal at the Staples Center, and championship-level basketball infrastructure more than help overcome the lasting stink emanating from Sterling’s decades-long stewardship.
This is why several high-profile groups have been rumored to have to have taken interest. The newest is one helmed by entertainment executive David Geffen, alongside Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, and Queen of All Media: Oprah Winfrey. ESPN relayed the group’s interest on Wednesday in a talk with Jeremy Schaap:
"Oprah is not interested in running the team," Geffen told Schaap. "She thinks it would be a great thing for an important black American to own [another] franchise.
"The team deserves a better group of owners who want to win. Larry would sooner die than fail. I would sooner die than fail. Larry's a sportsman. We've talked about this for a long time. Between the three of us, we have a good shot."
Geffen also told Schaap that LeBron James was interested in playing in Los Angeles when he was a free agent in 2010 and that James, who ultimately signed with the Miami Heat, told him he would not play for Sterling.
"[The] reasons are perfectly clear," said Geffen, would not specifically disclose why James didn't want to play for Sterling.
James did meet with Clipper representatives in 2010, alongside visits from the Knicks, Bulls, Cavaliers and Heat; and because Sterling’s known motives behind his housing discrimination suits were already on public record by that summer, it makes sense that LeBron would want no part in joining that team, in spite of a sound core featuring Blake Griffin and heaps of cap space.
Geffen has been a longtime Los Angeles fixture, moving from recording artist management (he was the subject of Joni Mitchell’s classic song “Free Man in Paris” and rumored to be the inspiration behind Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”) to record company ownership to all out film and entertainment mogul-izing. Forbes estimates his net worth at $6.2 billion, he works mostly in philanthropy now, and he explained his interest in taking on the Clippers in his talks with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap:
"I'm a fan. I bring something to the table, it's fun and I can afford it," Geffen said. "I live in L.A., that's one thing that makes it attractive."
We should all retire to options like these.
Oprah Winfrey can also afford it, she could afford the entire Pacific Division if she wanted to, and the idea of adding a second African-American NBA owner would obviously appeal to just about all involved. If Sterling had any sense of tact, poise and reason, he would probably attempt to help slightly dignify his last remaining years by selling to someone like Oprah, cashing in on a nice billion or so along the way, but his initial responses to both Jim Gray and Adam Silver portray the current Clippers owner as unrepentant in terms of his taped remarks about minorities, and unwilling to sell.
Larry Ellison has long been on the fringes of NBA ownership, attempting to toss his hat into the ring in bids to buy the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings, and he would seem the prime guy moving forward to drive a deal like this home – full of enough money to make it work, knowledgeable enough about the NBA to let the basketball executives do their jobs.
All of this is hopeful initial thinking, though. We’re so far away from the conclusion of how to rid the NBA of Donald Sterling, completely, that this is akin to discussing your favorite team’s options in the 2015 free agent period. Or the 2016 one, possibly.
By all accounts, Sterling can’t comprehend what he’s done wrong, and why the league’s owners want this brand-damaging, sponsor-killing figurehead out of their league of 30. These owners haven’t even set a date to vote to force Sterling to sell his team, the complications of Sterling’s estranged wife (who, everyone should note, is reportedly no saint herself) and potential heirs has to come into play. And even the sports community’s top legal analysts seem directly conflicted as to whether or not Sterling has no case, or plenty of cases and feints and extensions and Sterling-esque machinations on his side to battle this out in court for years.
All while cashing checks from the fans that happily packed the Staples Center on Tuesday night, thinking they were in direct defiance of an owner they loathe.
Ownership could change eventually, and a triptych of Oprah Winfrey, David Geffen, and Larry Ellison would seem like an absolute dream scenario, but we’re still in the earliest of stages of removing Donald Sterling. All the NBA has done so far is take his courtside seat away. He’s still the Clippers owner, and no amount of combined billions can change that.
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