LOS ANGELES — With their owner barred for life from the NBA, the Los Angeles Clippers suddenly find themselves in a profoundly unfamiliar position: They are the toast of the town.
Sean Combs said he wanted a piece of the team. David Geffen has said he wants to buy the Clippers. Judd Apatow joked that he and Don Rickles should join forces to bid for them. Magic Johnson may swoop in and buy the team. But not if Floyd Mayweather Jr. can get there first.
Oprah Winfrey is in discussions with Geffen and Larry Ellison, according to Nicole Nichols, a spokeswoman for Winfrey. The billionaire entrepreneur Eli Broad, who was a co-owner of the Sacramento Kings a number of years ago, might join others in a bid for the Clippers, Karen Denne, a spokeswoman for his foundation said.
When NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Tuesday that he was imposing a lifetime ban on Donald Sterling, the longtime owner who was recorded making racist statements, Silver said the league would try to force Sterling to sell the team.
The prospect of an auction will almost certainly create a feeding frenzy, with offers flying in both in jest and not, for the most coveted commodity in professional sports: a competitive team in a major market. That means the Clippers, the forgotten stepchild of Los Angeles sports franchises, are suddenly the belle of the basketball.
“I am now declaring my intent to buy the Clippers,” Mindy Kaling, the comedic actress, wrote on Twitter. “The uniforms will be the same but bedazzled.”
All of the attention and adoration may be disorienting for the Clippers, a team that has for decades been perhaps the worst franchise in professional sports, a basketball calamity that would have been a laughingstock if it wasn’t so pathetic. The Clippers had none of the glamour of the Lakers, who have boasted a flotilla of Hall of Fame superstars that played before an arena studded with A-list celebrities.
Even though the Clippers played in the same arena, the Staples Center, their games might have well been played on another planet. Tickets were sold at a fraction of the price. Parking spaces were easy to come by. The visiting team won more often than not.
But now the Clippers are ascendant, on the verge of advancing to the second round of the playoffs with perhaps the strongest team the franchise has had. They play a flashy brand of slam-dunk, alley-oop basketball that has earned the team the nickname Lob City. And this week the Sterling scandal captured the country’s attention, bringing millions more eyes to the team than ever before.
If the red-and-blue logo once represented futility, it now has become a symbol of something very different. The attention comes at a time when the Lakers are as vulnerable as they have been. Their only star, Kobe Bryant, has been hobbled with injuries. And the owner, Jim Buss, son of the longtime owner Jerry Buss, who died last year, has been widely criticized for his management skills.
The mechanics of how a Clippers sale might work — or even if it will happen — remain unclear. The league’s other 29 owners have to vote a three-quarters majority that they want Sterling out of the league. How much the team might sell for remains uncertain as well. Sterling, a real estate developer widely derided as a slumlord, bought the team in 1981 for $12.7 million. Forbes estimated this year that the team was worth about $575 million — and that was before the Sterling scandal made the team a national icon.
The name that has been bandied about most is Magic Johnson, who is part of the ownership group of the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was Johnson who inadvertently set off the Sterling scandal. Sterling asked a woman he was often seen with not to post online pictures of herself with black men, including Johnson.
“Don’t put him on Instagram for the world to see so they have to call me,” Sterling said, in a recording released by TMZ. “And don’t bring him to my games. Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo, broadcast, that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”
Geffen, who told Forbes that he “would very much like to buy the team,” will have some company. The Lakers, meanwhile, failed to make the playoffs.
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