Oprah in wings as NBA sets the wheels turning for Clippers sale
Move to expel Donald Sterling from the league fans speculation about potential buyers
Several luminaries from sports and show business, Oprah Winfrey among them, signalled interest on Wednesday in buying the Los Angeles Clippers as the NBA set a first meeting to weigh removing Donald Sterling as owner over racist remarks attributed to him.
A day after Sterling was banned for life from the National Basketball Association, two of the league’s 29 other team owners, including the governing board’s chairman, said they expected to reach the three-fourths majority vote needed to expel Sterling fully, a move unprecedented in NBA history.
The advisory finance committee of the board scheduled a meeting on Thursday to review the next steps for forcing a sale of the Clippers, as urged on Tuesday by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, a league spokeswoman said.
Sterling, who bought the Clippers in 1981 for US$13 million when the team was based in San Diego, has not indicated whether he would relinquish ownership without a fight. Experts have estimated that the franchise, which moved to Los Angeles in 1984, could now be worth up to US$800 million.
Moreover, some experts said Sterling’s fellow owners might be hesitant to support action they felt could set a precedent jeopardising their own property rights in the future.
Still, the move to expel Sterling from the league altogether fanned speculation about potential buyers.
Winfrey’s spokeswoman, Nicole Nichols, said the talk show host turned media mogul was in talks with leading Hollywood executive David Geffen and the chief executive officer of computer technology firm Oracle Corp, Larry Ellison, to bid for the team if it were to become available.
Geffen, who started two record labels and co-founded the DreamWorks film studio, has expressed interest in the Clippers in the past but never tendered an offer. Winfrey’s holdings already include stakes in a cable network and a magazine.
Geffen, whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at US$6.2 billion, told sports network ESPN on Wednesday he and Ellison would run the team, while Winfrey would be an investor.
“She thinks it would be a great thing for an important black American to own [another] franchise,” Geffen said. “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.”
Other names floated as possible suitors include former NBA Los Angeles Lakers star Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team who once had a stake in the Lakers and has built a media empire catering to African-American consumers.
“If the time is right, my partners at [investment group] Guggenheim and I will sit down to discuss it,” he told a financial conference in Beverly Hills on Wednesday. “The fans have spoken they want us to own the team, but we’ll just have to wait and see how it works out.”
Two of boxing’s biggest names, world champion Floyd Mayweather Jnr and promoter Oscar De La Hoya, have also expressed designs on the team since Tuesday.
“What better face than my face,” De La Hoya said on CNN. “I’m stepping up to the plate and I’m letting the world know that I’m obviously interested.”
Although Silver said he would seek to force a sale of the Clippers immediately, the process could take weeks.
According to NBA bylaws, Silver must present a written copy of any allegations against Sterling within three days, and Sterling would have five days to answer. A special hearing of the Board of Governors, consisting of all the owners, will be held on a date no more than 10 days after Sterling’s reply.
Sterling was stripped of his seat on the board as part of the lifetime ban imposed by Silver for the “deeply offensive and harmful” racial views Sterling was said to have expressed in audio recordings released over the weekend.
Neither Sterling nor his representatives have commented on the tapes, in which a voice said to be his is heard criticising a female friend for “associating with black people”. In it, he asks her not to invite Johnson to Clippers games.
Silver said Tuesday that Sterling has acknowledged to the NBA that the recording was authentic but did not apologise.
News of the recordings drew outrage from players, fans, politicians – including President Barack Obama – and commercial sponsors, several of whom said they were cutting ties with the team, even after the NBA moved to remove Sterling.
The ban imposed prohibits Sterling from any ties with the Clippers organisation or the league as a whole and bars him from ever again attending NBA games or practices.
Sterling, the longest-tenured of the NBA’s 30 owners, also was excluded from any team business or player personnel decisions and was fined US$2.5 million, the league’s maximum monetary penalty.
Asked whether Sterling, 80, could end up an absentee owner if the governing board declined to force a team sale, Silver said: “I fully expect to get the support I need from the other NBA owners to remove him.”