I spend a fair amount of time around the Clippers. I’m friends with their president Andy Roeser, I know their GM Gary Sacks, I work with their excellent PR staff, I’ve talked to Doc and many of the players. I eat dinner with some of their game operations people when I’m there, and I even watched the last NBA draft at their practice facility. I attend a fair number of their games (not as many as I’d like, due to my personal schedule) — about the same number as Laker games.
I’ve also been around Donald Sterling, although I don’t know him personally. He was frequently in the Staples Center media room. In fact, I think you can tell a lot about the difference between the two LA franchises by observing the goings-on in the media room. For the Lakers, many of the front office and PR people are in there, but I rarely if ever have seen someone with the Buss surname. The Clippers are a different story — many of us in the media have nicknamed the media room “Club Sterling” on Clippers game nights.
It’s a whole different vibe in there when Donald Sterling is around, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Fortunately, it looks like that era has drawn to a close. I only hope that all of the good people I know in the Clippers organization can resume focusing on business without having to worry about Donald Sterling’s residual stink.
I was thrilled to see Adam Silver unload on Sterling with both barrels. The lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine were the harshest penalties over which he had discretion, and I’m sure the Board of Governors will support Silver’s recommendation to force Sterling to sell the team. I’m sure there will be a couple dissenters — Mark Cuban already commented that it was a slippery slope, but I’ll remind Mark that “slippery slope” is the name of a logical fallacy. This is an extraordinary circumstance, and I don’t think we’re opening the door to future owners being outed for arbitrary reasons. In the end, I think the Board will vote to force Sterling to sell.
But I don’t expect Sterling to go away quietly. He can drag his feet. He can sue the league to stop the proceedings — he can probably drag this on for a long time. And the longer this drags on, the longer this stink continues to hang over the team and the league. For that reason, I think the league will try to throw money at the problem — to try to find a price at which Sterling would be willing to sell and walk away.
What will that price be? The most recent Forbes valuation listed the Clippers at $575 million, but that valuation, while only a few months old, now seems hopelessly out of date. The Milwaukee Bucks — the lowest-valued team in the league — are selling for $550 million (although the price is being artificially inflated by including some of the arena costs in the purchase price) so the bar is now set even higher. The league will also want to avoid any potential claim on Sterling’s part that he is being forced to sell the team at below its value.
What will Sterling demand in return for selling the team without a fight? It’ll be at least a billion dollars. I only hope that someone like the Guggenheim Partners (which own the Dodgers and include Magic Johnson) is willing to step up with an offer Sterling will accept. Let that stick in your craw — after all this, it’s Sterling who will walk away with an enormous financial windfall.
I have one complaint with what Silver said at the news conference. When asked to compare the current situation with earlier ones involving Sterling, Silver pointed out that Sterling prevailed in the Elgin Baylor suit, and that the federal issue was settled without an admission of guilt. Therefore, the league had nothing to go on (I’m paraphrasing here).
That’s a little bit misleading. The league doesn’t have a guilty verdict in the current situation either. Instead, they conducted their own fact-finding investigation this week. Why didn’t they do that previously? The stories about Sterling go back decades. He was no different last month, last year, or 30 years ago. They knew who he was back then. Yet players and coaches signed with the team, companies sponsored the team, the media covered the team, fans bought tickets for the team, and the league continued to endorse the team. Continued to endorse Sterling. And everyone who knew what kind of person Sterling is now has some of his stink on them, because everyone continued to look the other way.
Hopefully there won’t be a next time for situations like this. That said, if it ever does happen again, then hopefully the league has learned its lesson, and won’t let a situation like this continue to fester.