LOS ANGELES — If Donald Sterling is compelled to sell the Los Angeles Clippers, the list of potential buyers has more stars than their roster.
Oprah Winfrey is contemplating a bid. Sean Combs is a Knicks fan, but he wants in.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. wants the whole team. Matt Damon wants a tiny piece.
Billionaires, entertainers and athletes alike announced their intentions to pursue the Clippers with varying degrees of seriousness Wednesday, proving the longtime losers will be quite a prize if the NBA is able to wrest control of the team away from Sterling after his lifetime ban for racist remarks.
Winfrey led the list, and the media mogul is already bringing in her friends.
“Oprah Winfrey is in discussions with David Geffen and Larry Ellison to make a bid for the Los Angeles Clippers should the team become available,” spokesperson Nicole Nichols confirmed in an email.
If Winfrey joins Geffen, the billionaire entertainment executive, and Oracle CEO Ellison to pool their vast resources for a bid, they could be among the top contenders for a franchise that would be among the most valuable sports properties to hit the market since the Los Angeles Dodgers’ $2 billion sale in 2012 to the Guggenheim Partners group fronted by Magic Johnson, the Lakers great and another potential Clippers bidder.
The Clippers spent the last three decades rotting in the shadow of the glamorous Lakers, who piled up championships while the lowly Clips only racked up losses. With Sterling’s ouster, the Clippers suddenly became the most attractive team in town to wealthy fans lining up for an unlikely chance to seize control of a Hollywood sports franchise on the move.
David Carter, the executive director of USC’s Sports Business Institute, identifies multiple factors contributing to the Clippers’ extraordinary value.
“Interest in the team results from the combination of NBA teams being rare assets that are seldom available for purchase, the location of this particular team, and potential owners’ belief that revenue streams linked to rehabbing the brand and participating in future revenue linked to a new TV deal all make the team very attractive to prospective buyers,” Carter said.
For a day, almost everybody seemed interested in being those buyers — and even entertainers without those limitless resources were clamoring for the chance.
Combs, Rick Ross and Snoop Dogg all aired their interest, as did longtime Clippers fan Frankie Muniz and Damon, who told CNBC he’d like to be a “super tiny minority investor.” Fans also got in on the frenzy, opening campaigns on Kickstarter and Crowdtilt to pool their resources for the club.
Mayweather spoke seriously about his interest while preparing for his fight with Marcos Maidana this Saturday, although Money May would have to curb his enthusiastic sports gambling habit. Oscar De La Hoya, the majority shareholder in Golden Boy Promotions whose statue sits outside Staples Center, volunteered himself as a part-owner.
“The league has made it known that it wants more minorities involved, and as a proud Mexican-American, I will bring a different perspective to the NBA in general, and the Clippers in particular,” De La Hoya said. “I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I know what it takes to run a successful sports entity.”
A vocal segment of the NBA’s social media following immediately started a campaign to move the Clippers to Seattle, a basketball-loving city that has been without a team since Clay Bennett moved the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in 2008.
But much of the Clippers’ value results from their location in the nation’s second-largest city and their opportunity to sign a lucrative new television rights deal in 2016.
The Clippers’ association with Sterling’s racist remarks could have been crushing to their prestige and value, but they don’t seem to be a problem if Sterling is no longer associated with the club.
“The short term damage has been dramatic, but Commissioner (Adam) Silver provided a tourniquet that has stopped the brand erosion,” Carter said. “The NBA, working in conjunction with new ownership, will have an extraordinary opportunity to rehabilitate the team’s reputation, and then extend its brand.”
The Clippers haven’t been known for success during most of their existence, but that’s changing. And what’s more, the Clippers are cool.
Led by point guard Chris Paul and high-flying forward Blake Griffin — two All-Stars signed to long-term contracts — the Clippers have won two straight Pacific Division titles and are on the brink of their third playoff series victory since Sterling bought the team in 1981.
The Clippers have captured the imagination of Los Angeles’ counterculture, the transplants and contrarian fans who aren’t interested in the Lakers’ bandwagon. They’re also attracting more of an international following with each highlight-reel performance by Paul and dunking virtuosos DeAndre Jordan and Griffin, who coined the phrase “Lob City” to describe their daredevil style of play.
And it doesn’t hurt that the Lakers just finished their worst season in more than 50 years, missing the playoffs for just the third time in 38 seasons. The Lakers appear to be years away from title contention, while the Clippers are built to contend every year in the near future.
“We’re proud of this team,” Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said. “We’re proud of our city, and we want to make them proud of us.”