In the wake of Adam Silver’s decision to force a sale of the L.A. Clippers out from under the franchise’s longtime owner, noted misanthrope Donald Sterling, several prominent candidates have emerged as potential buyers of one of the league’s most valuable teams. That sound you hear is a bunch of billionaires aflutter, jostling for position.
Indeed, there are only so many glamour markets in the NBA, and Los Angeles is one of them. In Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the team already has two popular, marketable All-NBA players who, so long as they remain Clippers, guarantee title-contention. DeAndre Jordan is blooming before our eyes, Jamal Crawford is the league’s Sixth Man, and Doc Rivers is a master statesman, a bona fide manager. This team is hot right now, poised for long-term success, and will reap a mammoth TV deal in two years, when the current one expires. We’ve got a ways to go before the vetting and bidding starts in earnest, but when it concludes, the Clipper franchise will fetch over $1 billion, the first NBA team to do so.
Forgetting for a moment that all that money will just end up stuffing Sterling’s grody, old mattresses, let’s take stock of those who might end up buying the Clippers and what each new owner might mean to L.A.’s long-suffering fans. In no particular order:
1. Oscar De La Hoya. Born and raised in L.A., the retired pugilist has a statue in front of Staples Center. He himself is a staple in the community. Another big-time boxer, Floyd Mayweather, has a condo next to Staples, a desire to buy, and “a couple billionaire guys” to inflate his purchasing power. There’s some talk these two former welterweight foes might go in together. That’d be nice, but maybe instead, the Golden Boy and Pretty Boy can stage a rematch at L.A. Live, winner gets the team. I’d buy it. Likelihood to become owner: a puncher’s chance
2. Magic Johnson and Guggenheim Partners. Another man with another statue, who also happens to be the most popular Los Angeles Laker of all time, is the frontrunner to win the bid. Known for his smile, deft passing, and championship mettle, Magic has already applied those traits in helping restore one local sports franchise from damage done by a miserly pariah; this group paid $2 billion for the Los Angeles Dodgers – when the team was valued at roughly half that amount! – and made everyone forget Frank McCourt and his unsafe parking lots. Maybe Matt Damon could even get a slice.
The NBA would love to get Magic back in the fold. In L.A.? C’mon! Update: Johnson has distanced himself from reports of his interest, but that’s all in the game. Likelihood: outlook positive
3. Drake. You know he’s thinking about it. He’s a winner. (Diddy and Rick Ross have already thrown their snapbacks in the ring.) Likelihood: depends on how the Raptors do on Friday
4. Oprah Winfrey, Larry Ellison, and David Geffen. The goddess of our great cultural ethos, a woman whose candor and charisma can make even a calloused Clipper fan feel cherished, Oprah can do anything she wants. Her courtside aura alone would melt Joey Crawford’s pebble of a heart. Playing in front of Oprah for just 24 minutes, the Indiana Pacers would spend halftime sitting in a circle, holding hands, sharing heart promises. Oprah’s in-game promotions would be crazy. Can you fit a Prius into a t-shirt cannon?
As for Larry, he’s only the fifth-richest man in the world. Not in the U.S. In the world. Ellison founded Oracle, which purchased the naming rights to the home of the best game atmosphere in the NBA. Maybe his presence would bring some of that mojo to Staples Center. Maybe he’d bring Andre Iguodala, too. Geffen, a media mogul and L.A. fixture, wants in on the action with Oprah and Larry. He already tried to buy the team in 2010 (and maybe get LeBron!), but Sterling said no. He can’t say no now. If Magic’s group doesn’t get the Clippers, this crew is the next best bet. Likelihood: mogul ready
5. Frankie Muniz. Also known as famed actor Bryan Cranston’s son, Frankie is at least a devout Clipper fan – he’s been attending games since Blake Griffin was in fourth grade. Frankie credits NBA Live ’95 on Super Nintendo for his love of the team, and he’s taken a lot of grief for his loyalty to the city’s little-brother hoops squad. Granted, Frankie’s net worth is only somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million, but hey, that’s almost four times what Sterling paid for the franchise. The Clippers could do a lot worse than Muniz. Likelihood: less likely than Agent Cody Banks 3
6. Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer. The hotshot hedge fund guy and former Microsoft CEO have been angling for an NBA team they can relocate to Seattle for two years now. They’ve got an arena deal lined up, Scrooge McDuck money, and the emotional support of everyone outside the 405 area code. They almost got the Sacramento Kings and were in the conversation to buy the Milwaukee Bucks, but ultimately lost out in both instances. In a fair world, Silver would sell the Clippers to Hansen and Ballmer, but the league likes having two teams in Los Angeles, and someone will pay big money to keep them here. Sorry, Seattle. Likelihood: at least the Seahawks are awesome
7. The Tyrells. One of the great houses of Westeros, hailing from over the Reach, House Tyrell would presumably be represented locally and at owners’ meetings by Margaery, a young, ambitious Jeanie Buss-type, or perhaps Olenna, Margaery’s cagey grandmother, a sultrier version of David Stern. Whatever the Tyrells lack in funding, they make up for in persuasive tactics. I would not bet against them. Likelihood: watch out, Commissioner
8. Patrick Soon-Shiong. Soon-Shiong is purportedly the wealthiest citizen of Los Angeles, but when you’re rich enough to buy a sports team, you sort of live everywhere all at once. Soon-Shiong nearly bought the Dodgers and currently owns 4% of the Lakers. Hopefully it’s not the 4% that has to pay out Kobe’s contract extension. As Silver mentioned in his press conference, the league is always interested in elevating the level of diversity in the NBA’s ownership circles. Besides being immensely qualified, Soon-Shiong fits that bill. It’s worth noting how many others on this list do as well, which is truly great, especially in light of the circumstances surrounding the pending sale of the team. Likelihood: more likely than cracking the human genome in 47 seconds, and he already did that
9. At this point in the list, there are simply more local billionaires (Rick Caruso, Henry Samueli) and lesser known international interests (who’s the next Mikhail Prokhorov or Vivek Ranadivé?). For all we know, by the time the legal wrangling is complete and a sale of the team actually occurs, some kid in Commerce may have invented an app and be worth more than ten Donald Sterlings. We shall see. Likelihood: ask again later
10. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Around this time of year, these guys kind of own the Clippers anyway, so why not make it official? On the plus side, Z-Bo played in L.A. for 39 games, so he might’ve picked up a few of the finer points of franchise administration from Sterling. Gasol is reminiscent of the friendly proprietor of a lumberjack supply store. They’d make a good management team, and as current players, at least they’d understand the importance of free socks. As a bonus, maybe they’d install Tony Allen as GM. This feels right. Likelihood: don’t count on it
11. ClipperBlog Editor Andrew Han. Give the people what they want! Likelihood: sad face tree eggplant emoji