FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2010 file photo, Los Angeles Clippers team owner Donald Sterling watches his team play in Los Angeles. The NBA is investigating a report of an audio recording in which a man purported to be Sterling makes racist remarks while speaking to his girlfriend. NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement Saturday, APril 26, 2014, that the league is in the process of authenticating the validity of the recording posted on TMZ's website. Bass called the comments "disturbing and offensive." (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2010 file photo, Los Angeles Clippers team owner Donald Sterling watches his team play in Los Angeles. The NBA is investigating a report of an audio recording in which a man purported to be Sterling makes racist remarks while speaking to his girlfriend. NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement Saturday, APril 26, 2014, that the league is in the process of authenticating the validity of the recording posted on TMZ's website. Bass called the comments "disturbing and offensive." (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
Los Angeles Clippers co-owner Shelly Sterling has received at least three "preliminary" offers for the franchise and has begun reviewing the bids, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Sterling is trying to complete a rushed sale ahead of the NBA's scheduled Tuesday hearing to vote to terminate her and husband Donald Sterling's co-ownership of the franchise. Potential bidders faced a 5 p.m. ET deadline Wednesday to submit initial offers.
Movement toward the sale of the Clippers has picked up steam since last Friday, when the news broke that Donald Sterling — who was banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after the publication of audio recordings that featured him making racist remarks — had agreed to allow his wife, Rochelle "Shelly" Sterling, to oversee the sale of the team.
“We’re working furiously to secure a buyer, and we’re working cooperatively with the NBA on the sale process,” Pierce O’Donnell, Rochelle Sterling’s lawyer, told Scott Cacciola of the New York Times on Tuesday. O'Donnell is reportedly handling the sale of the team with several other lawyers. Bank of America has also been retained to facilitate the sale.
News that Donald Sterling would assent to a sale came as something of a surprise. Before his ban came down, he had said that the team was not for sale. Two weeks ago, following Sterling's disastrous CNN interview, his attorney informed the NBA that he wouldn't pay his $2.5 million fine and threatened to sue the NBA over its efforts to invoke a clause in the league's constitution that would begin the process of terminating Sterling's ownership of the franchise and force its sale to an outside buyer.
The mixed messaging continued Tuesday and Wednesday, with the man who bought the Clippers for a reported $12.5 million in 1981 digging in and bowing his back. In connection with the official response to the NBA's charge to terminate Donald Sterling's ownership, Sterling attorney Max Blecher told ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne that his client isn't cosigning Shelly's moves toward a sale:
[...] Blecher, told ESPN on Tuesday that his client "is going to fight to the bloody end" and has effectively "disavowed" the agreement he reached with his wife last week that would allow her to negotiate a sale of the team.
"I don't know what agreement she has with him, but I'm saying to you today, he disavows anything she's doing to sell the team," Blecher said. "He says, 'It's my team, and I'll sell it when and if I get around to it.'"
Asked why Sterling seems to have had a change of heart, Blecher said, "He was in a state of shock at first. Now he's recovering and he's much more feisty."
Blecher also told the L.A. Times on Wednesday that Sterling is still seeking concessions before fully signing off on a sale:
"He wants something to suggest that 'I, Donald Sterling, don't die with this stigma from this controversy over my head,’ “ Blecher told the L.A. Times.
In his resurgent feistiness, Donald Sterling may have overlooked a document contradicting this recent round of disavowals, according to Cacciola of the New York Times:
Donald Sterling appeared to authorize his wife, Rochelle, to negotiate a sale of the Los Angeles Clippers in a letter he sent to the N.B.A. through one of his longtime lawyers last Thursday.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained Wednesday by The New York Times, stands in stark contrast to a 32-page document Sterling and his legal team sent to the N.B.A. Tuesday night in which he vowed to fight the league in its efforts to strip him of his ownership of the Clippers.
The letter, which was signed by Sterling, was addressed to Commissioner Adam Silver and Richard Buchanan, the league’s vice president and general counsel.
It reads, in part: “This letter confirms that Donald T. Sterling authorizes Rochelle Sterling to negotiate with the National Basketball Association regarding all issues in connection with a sale of the Los Angeles Clippers team, owned by LAC Basketball Club, Inc.”
Well, OK, then.
None of these new twists and turns seems to have influenced the NBA into changing its course. From the Tuesday night statement issued by NBA vice president of communications Mike Bass:
“This evening, the NBA received responses from Donald and Shelly Sterling to the charge to terminate the current ownership interests in the Los Angeles Clippers. The NBA Board of Governors will meet on June 3 at 1 p.m. in New York City to hear and vote upon this matter. Should the Board vote to sustain the charge, the Sterlings’ interests in the Clippers will be terminated and the team will be sold.”
That said, the NBA isn't opposed to Shelly Sterling getting a deal done — so long as said deal results in the Sterlings owning absolutely no piece of the Clippers. From USA TODAY Sports' Brent Schrotenboer:
"As the Commissioner said last week, it would be a preferred outcome if the Sterlings were to voluntarily transfer 100% of the ownership in the team to new owners, rather than to have their ownership in the team terminated," Bass told USA TODAY Sports via e-mail.
So we've got Donald Sterling claiming he's going to fight the sale of the Clippers tooth and nail, Shelly Sterling pushing full steam ahead regardless, the NBA saying it doesn't really care what the Sterlings do because the June 3 hearing and eventual termination vote's going to happen no matter what, and bids apparently flying in for a franchise valued by some analysts between $1 billion and $2 billion.
If, in fact, a sale is coming, and a deal can get done to the NBA's satisfaction, who are the most likely candidates to buy the Clippers?
Let's go down the list:
• Oprah Winfrey, David Geffen and Larry Ellison. Our Kelly Dwyer considered this collective back in April — tons of cash, tons of Hollywood cachet and one member (Ellison) with long-established interest in buying into the NBA during previous ownership auctions for a pair of other California franchises, the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings. A spokesperson for Oprah Winfrey confirmed Tuesday that she's still interested a month after the initial reports.
• Magic Johnson and the Guggenheim Partners. Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski first reported back in April that the Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Fame point guard and the Chicago-based financial backers with whom he purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 were interested in buying the Clippers. Johnson later denied interest, but two days later told a gathering of Southern California business leaders that he and his partners wanted to be in the mix.
"Magic Johnson knows he's always welcome as an owner in this league," Silver said during the press conference announcing Sterling's ban.
Interestingly enough, those two high-profile, deep-pocketed groups might not be bidding against one another, according to the L.A. Times:
One new buyers alliance already came together in recent days when Chicago-based Guggenheim Partners, which bought the Dodgers two years ago for more than $2 billion, agreed to work with a trio of billionaires who previously said they would launch their own bid for the Clippers — Oracle software co-founder Larry Ellison, entertainment magnate David Geffen and mega-entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey.
If that partnership holds up, it will be interesting to see if any other collective can match its combination of funding and appeal.
• Grant Hill, Tony Ressler and Bruce Karsh. ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported that the former NBA All-Star had joined up with Ressler and Karsh, two billionaire investors and longtime Southern California residents with major-league ownership credentials, to get in the game:
Hill is just completing his first season in retirement after a 19-year career that featured seven All-Star appearances. Ressler is the co-founder of Ares Management and a minority owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. Karsh is president and co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management and currently serves a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors.
Ressler reportedly met with Shelly Sterling "at a Malibu restaurant last weekend to discuss a potential bid," according to Reuters. Bloomberg reported Wednesday night that the group submitted an initial bid of $1.2 billion.
— Scott Soshnick (@soshnick) May 28, 2014
• Steve Ballmer. The former Microsoft CEO joined with hedge fund manager Chris Hansen last year in an attempt to buy the Kings for a price of $525 million (which was later raised to $575 million) and relocate them to Washington state, where they'd re-brand and come back in the green and gold of the Seattle SuperSonics. Their efforts, as you know, were not successful, with the allegedly volatile Ballmer reportedly ruffling some feathers in the process.
Still, he's a very wealthy man with at least some experience in working on a sale with difficult owners and the NBA, and his interest in buying into the league isn't Seattle-specific, according to a conversation he had with the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago:
WSJ: You’ve tried a couple times to buy an NBA franchise to return a basketball team to Seattle. Are you interested in the Los Angeles Clippers, if the team goes up for sale?
Ballmer: I have nothing definitive to say. Am I right on top of what’s going on there? Absolutely I am. I love basketball, and I’d love to participate at some point in the NBA. If the opportunity is outside of Seattle, so be it. I will learn about any team that comes up for sale at this point.
WSJ: So you wouldn’t move the Clippers to Seattle?
Ballmer: If I get interested in the Clippers, it would be for Los Angeles. I don’t work anymore, so I have more geographic flexibility than I did a year, year-and-a half ago. Moving them anywhere else would be value destructive.
TMZ reported Sunday that Ballmer and Shelly Sterling were meeting at her Malibu mansion to discuss a bid. Forbes reports that Ballmer "has offered $1.8 billion" for the Clippers, citing "a person familiar with Ballmer's interest in the team."
• Patrick Soon-Shiong. The 61-year-old Soon-Shiong — a surgeon, medical researcher, UCLA professor, philanthropist and businessman — is reportedly the richest man in Los Angeles, with a net worth estimated by Forbes at $10 billion. He bought Magic's 4.5 percent ownership stake in the Lakers in June 2011, and was part of a group that bid unsuccessfully against Johnson and Guggenheim for the Dodgers in 2012. ESPN.com's Darren Rovell has confirmed that Soon-Shiong intends to bid on the Clippers.
• Rick Caruso. A billionaire real-estate developer whose firm, Caruso Affiliated, owns and operates a number of properties in the Los Angeles area, most notably The Grove. He, too, had been in the running for the Dodgers in 2012, in partnership with former Dodgers manager Joe Torre, before withdrawing his bid in February of that year. He has said he'd be interested in being in the bidding for the Clippers, according to Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times.
• Floyd Mayweather. The 37-year-old undefeated five-division boxing champion expressed interest in being part of a group to buy the Clippers before his recent victory over Marcos Maidana, according to Yahoo Sports boxing columnist Kevin Iole:
Mayweather [...] said he called his powerful adviser, Al Haymon, earlier Tuesday to discuss putting together a group.
"Actually, I called Al today about that, to see if me, Leonard [Ellerbe], Richard [Schaefer], Al and a couple of my billionaire guys could come together and see what we could come up with," said Mayweather, a devoted bettor on NBA games. "Let's see if we can do it, and it's not just talk. I wouldn't mind. Once I get ownership in the Clippers, I could no longer bet. I'd have to stop that completely.
"You know with me, I can't come in here and talk about, 'Mayweather's only going to get three percent, four percent.' I've got to get a solid percentage. Do we want to buy the Clippers? Yes, we do. We're very, very interested in buying the Clippers."
Whether the NBA would be interest in being the newest members of The Money Team, though, remains to be seen.
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