Here's Who Could Buy the L.A. Clippers Now

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- After National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver issued the unprecedented lifetime ban on L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling and $2.5 million fine, the team quickly issued a statement: "Now the healing process begins."

Commissioner Silver is being heralded -- deservedly --for his leadership in the wake of Sterling's racist statements, which remind us that bigotry exists in all levels of society.  But as the Clippers family and everyone else who denounce hatred are quick to embrace the healing process, Commissioner Silver's job is far from over.

No one will be healed until a new signature appears on the paychecks of all who are employed by the Clippers.

To that end, given Sterling's litigious past and his net worth of roughly $2 billion, expect him to prolong the agony. According to Sports Illustrated, Sterling can file an antitrust lawsuit against the league if he chooses.

With the vast majority of NBA team owners supporting Silver, it appears the commissioner will get the 3/4 votes needed to force Sterling to sell the franchise, which, according to Forbes, is worth $575 million. Sterling bought the team in 1981 for $12 million; he moved the team from San Diego to Los Angeles three years later. So he's not walking away empty-handed.


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The question is, how much would he take to walk away quietly? Perhaps more important, Silver and the NBA have to find a suitable replacement. By "suitable" I'm referring to someone (or a group) that is "symbolic" in the sense that she/he/they represent everything that Sterling was against. So far the list of possible bidders includes:

Magic Johnson 

It's only fitting that we lead off with Magic Johnson, who was one the subjects of Sterling's racist remarks. Recall, Sterling's racist remarks were prompted by him seeing pictures of his girlfriend with Johnson, which she posted on Instagram. Following a legendary playing career, Johnson has parlayed its popularity and charisma into a successful business man and serial entrepreneur.

According to Forbes, Johnson is worth north of $500 million. Johnson is currently part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers after his ownership group put up $2 billion. According to reports, Johnson and his financial backers at Guggenheim, are interested in buying the team. The NBA is aware. And given Johnson's existing ties to the city of Los Angeles, I don't know if there is a better fit. the fact that he is black works in his favor. Yes, I said it.

Larry Ellison

As the world's fifth-richest man at an estimated $50 billion, Larry Ellison, founder and CEO of software giant Oracle (ORCL), can certainly afford the Clippers. Following Ellison's failed attempts to acquire the New Orleans Hornets and Golden State Warriors, I doubt he would want to lose for a third time. Ellison has to be on a short list of front-runners, assuming that Johnson's team don't win out. It would also be fun to watch the Clippers play the the Portland Trailblazers, which is owned by Microsoft (MSFT) co-founder Paul Allen. The software rivalry would continue.

Floyd Mayweather

Boxing champion Mayweather is the least-likely candidate. But he wants everyone to know that he's interested. On Tuesday, while promoting his upcoming fight with Marcos Maidana, ESPN reported that Mayweather formally introduced in candidacy for ownership. Mayweather was quoted as saying:

"I called Al today about that to see if me...and a couple of other guys, a couple other of my billionaire guys, we can come together and see what we can come up with. Hopefully, we can do it, and it's not just talk."

Mayweather was referencing Al Haymon, a respected boxing adviser/promoter who is known for having strong sports connections, which has helped him deliver some of the best TV coverages for Mayweather and other fighters. But given Mayweather's checkered past, which includes a few run-ins with the law involving (among other things) domestic violence, he's not going to be looked upon as a suitable candidate. While he is worth an estimated $350 million, Haymon will need some serious clout to convince a jittery NBA that Mayweather can represent the league's interest, which is highly unlikely.

David Geffen

Entertainment mogul David Geffen, who is current owner of the National Hockey League's Pittsburg Penguins, has risen fast up everyone's list. Four years ago, Geffen offered $700 million to buy the Clippers. Earlier this week Geffen told Forbes he would very much like to buy the team. Geffen is worth $6.1 billion. Money won't be an issue. But four year ago it seems money was the issue after his bid was rebuffed. How much of a premium he's willing to give will determine how serious of a candidate he is considered.

There are other candidates out there who have not proclaimed their interests. The list is long, including Oprah Winfrey and Billy Crystal, who is a long-time Clippers fan. There are also rumors that Ellison, Geffen and Winfrey, all friends, are willing to pool their monies together to become part-owners.

However, with so many corporate sponsorships within sports, it's a little surprising that no one is talking about actual corporations buying the Clippers. A company like Staples (SPLS), which is desperate to revive itself, can make a statement with an acquisition. After all, the Clippers play in The Staples Center. With $1.1 billion in operating cash flow and another $500 million in cash on the balance sheet, Staples can make this happen.

Of course, there is Apple (AAPL), which is headquartered in Cupertino. Why not? The company doesn't have to change the team name to the iClips, but Apple can come with creative ways to make iPads and iPhones very useful and engaging tools to watch the games.

Then there is Samsung (SSNLF), which has spent $13 billion in marketing. It seems half of that budget went to the NBA. How else can Samsung proclaim the "next big thing is here" but with a splash at Samsung Arena? In the process, the Korean tech giant will remind Donald Sterling just how far minorities have come.

The good news is the NBA is in great hands and the Clippers are valuable enough where new ownership wouldn't be taking over a charity case. As a Miami Heat fan, I have to admit it will be awfully hard to root against the Clippers should the teams meet in the NBA Finals. It seems that while Sterling reminded us of how far we are from racial equality, he was instrumental in identifying the NBA's first-ever "America's team."

At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL.


This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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