Sterling’s ouster would lead to uncertain future
LOS ANGELES— While Donald Sterling’s lifetime ban from the Los Angeles Clippers was greeted with widespread acclaim Tuesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s decision raised a host of new questions for the owner’s long-troubled franchise.
In the first few hours after Silver’s landmark decision, nobody was certain whether Sterling’s wife, Rochelle, would be eligible to take a leadership role with the team in Donald Sterling’s absence. Donald Sterling wasn’t a micromanaging owner, but the 80-year-old real-estate mogul still presided over a large, rotating collection of executives and coaches.
“There has been no decision about other members of his family,” Silver said. “This ruling applies specifically to Donald Sterling and Donald Sterling only.”
That language likely means Rochelle Sterling is still welcome at the Clippers’ games at Staples Center and their state-of-the-art $60 million training complex built in Playa Vista in 2008.
Rochelle Sterling has played a nebulous role in running the team in the past, and she could be allowed to assume a figurehead role in Donald Sterling’s absence. Despite years of estrangement, the Sterlings co-own most of the items in their vast wealth portfolio under California’s community property laws.
The Clippers’ top executives aren’t likely to be shuffled in the short term, particularly while the team is still involved in the NBA postseason. Team President Andy Roeser has been a loyal Sterling employee for many years, while coach Doc Rivers also has a say in personnel decisions.
Despite the urgency of the potential move, Sterling seems almost certain to get the highest sale price in history for an NBA franchise. Even after decades of incompetence under Sterling’s watch, the Clippers are a successful team located in glamorous Los Angeles — and they’re about to get much more valuable.
That’s because the Clippers’ television contract with Fox Sports is up after the 2015-16 season, and they’re the only franchise in the nation’s second-largest media market that will be up for bid soon. Fox needs to keep the Clippers after losing the Lakers and the Dodgers to those teams’ own Time Warner Cable-backed networks, but both of those new networks seem likely to bid on the Clippers’ rights as well.
If the Clippers go on sale, the potential buyers would include several of the world’s wealthiest men.
Magic Johnson, Mark Walter and their Guggenheim Partners group in the billion-dollar purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers are possible bidders for the team. Billionaire music mogul David Geffen and real-estate tycoon Rick Caruso both have already indicated interest.
Patrick Soon-Shiong, the biotech billionaire often described as the richest man in Los Angeles, bought Johnson’s share of the Lakers in 2010, but could be interested in owning his own team. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has attempted to purchase several sports teams in recent years, but been rebuffed despite his vast fortune.
Perhaps the buyer could come from elsewhere, too: Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and music mogul Sean Combs both claimed interest in buying the team Tuesday.
Interest in professional sports franchises is at an unprecedented high. The small-market Milwaukee Bucks attracted nine bidders before selling for $550 million to finance executives Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens.