Here in the thick of the NBA championship hunt, there is no question which team will dominate this summer. In fact, haven't the Clippers already wrapped that title up?
The NBA still doesn't have any resolution of Team Turmoil but it's coming quickly. We think. An ownership finance committee will meet on Tuesday regarding the goal of making Donald Sterling disappear, and then the gas pedal really gets pressed next Tuesday when the Board of Governors hold a special meeting.
The league is hell bent on moving with deliberate speed regarding the Clippers ownership situation, mainly for PR reasons; because Sterling has been banned for life, he has no direct control of the team he owns. In this situation, image is everything. The owners will push this process through to pacify the public and to generate goodwill among NBA players and to repair any image damage done by The Donald, not because the league is losing sponsors or the Clippers are losing season ticket holders. Those financial concerns have cooled, if temporarily.
Until commissioner Adam Silver gets his required three-quarters vote from ownership to officially yank the Clippers from Sterling, which is expected to be a slam-dunk next week, there are two important questions that need answered:
Where Does The Embittered And Estranged Wife Fit In?
Shelly Sterling is either the key to quickly resolving this issue and keeping it from getting bloody, or she's just an annoyance who's in the way. Maybe both. In any event, if she can somehow help the league avoid as little legal hassles as possible and push a sale through, she will be the MVP of the entire deal. She and Sterling haven't been a couple in the traditional sense for quite some time, but she evidently has some sway in the quirky relationship and therefore Sterling seems willing to give her some power, if not most of it.
But first: She doesn't own the Clippers, and therefore she doesn't pull any weight.
Any talk of her assuming control of the club in a snap, which was generated by her "people" last week, is just that: talk. She would need approval from the Board first; all ownership transfers must go through that process. While Shelly Sterling technically owns 50 percent of the Clippers, Donald Sterling held the seat at the power table. He was recognized as the principal owner. And the NBA won't approve any transfer to Shelly Sterling until the owners get, in writing, that a transfer will go through only with the disclaimer that the team must be sold in such an event.
Otherwise, if she gets control of the club, she'd have every right to keep the Clippers. Remember, when Silver banned Donald Sterling, he said the ban didn't extend to family members.
Anyway, Shelly Sterling has indicated she won't try to pull an end-around and that she just wants to dictate these terms: Whom to sell the Clippers to and for how much. The league would rather the Sterlings handle those details rather than the league hiring an investment group in a forced sale. If her role would mean Donald Sterling wouldn't put up a legal fight -- which he would lose, but would nonetheless delay the process and cause all sorts of PR headaches -- the owners will likely go along. She is expected to state her case to owners before they hold their vote.
"It is their team to sell," said Silver. "I prefer [they] sell it rather than we go through this process."
Basically, Mrs. Sterling, who admitted that the couple operate like business partners, just wants her cut. It all comes back to that: Money. That's what this entire ordeal has been about.
TMZ reported that she already held informal talks with Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft executive based in Seattle, whose bid for the Kings fell through when the team stayed in Sacramento. Ballmer would have no plans to move the Clippers even if he could (league owners would reject any relocation); he just wants a seat at the auction. And that leads to the next question:
Who's Gonna Shell Out At Least A Billion For the Clippers?
A league person said the NBA will not make it mandatory that the next ownership group of the Clippers have African American representation, but it would help. Remember, even if a group offers the most money, that group must be approved by owners before a sale goes through. The league once rejected a higher bid for the Warriors when it said no to Larry Ellison, so there's precedent.
Why is the league favoring a black presence? Two reasons: It would go over well with players in light of Sterling's comments, and the NBA is pushing diversification within the old boy's club whenever possible. Buying into the NBA isn't always financial, it can be political. Besides, the pursuit for control of the Clippers isn't starving for rich black candidates.
Magic Johnson doesn't have enough money; he's a millionaire, not a billionaire. Same for Grant Hill, who has expressed interest. They would be front men, but dignified and popular front men nonetheless who'd be looked upon favorably by the NBA. Especially Johnson, and wouldn't it be quite the coincidence if the Clippers wind up in the hands of the person who was the target of Sterling's prejudicial rants?
Whether Magic and Hill become front-runners in the sale process would depend, of course, on the sugar daddy in their group. Does the Guggenheim Group, the financial muscle behind Magic's purchase of the Dodgers, want the Clippers badly enough to shell out at least a billion for the No. 2 basketball team in town? Or will those dollars be earmarked toward a potential NFL franchise for LA, which would be far more lucrative?
Oprah Winfrey is the other legit candidate, and unlike Magic and Hill, she does have enough loot. She'd be part of a group that includes her Hollywood pals, like Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and perhaps Ellison if he doesn't form his own.
Bottom line: There's a swell of interest in the Clippers because they're a profitable, winning team based in the country's second-largest market. Early estimates had them going for around $750 million but that seems low right now, and the ceiling number could be well over $1 billion depending on how many obscenely wealthy people are dying to have them.
If the Clippers fetch that kind of coin, then everyone wins: Donald Sterling (who paid a little more than $12 million for the franchise in 1981), NBA owners (who'll see their own teams soar in value) and Shelly Sterling. The only people who'll lose are the lawyers who were hoping to cash in big-time on a potential lawsuit.
The NBA wants this issue resolved well before next season and that appears possible if Donald Sterling doesn't try to put up a legal fight. He's 80 years old, in failing health and stripped of all ownership rights. He has no reason to battle to keep the Clippers other than for ego or spite.
Besides, what Sterling values most in life is money, and he'll make more money, and save money, by cooperating and selling the Clippers ASAP. That's what his few friends among ownership told him over the last few weeks: Sell the club and double your net worth -- you'll come out ahead.
Imagine that: Donald Sterling, whose team was a joke for much of his 33 years of ownership, and who is the most disgraced person in sports right now, would make the largest profit in American sports history.
That's an offer even he can't refuse. He's a businessman, right?