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After Sterling meltdown, suitors emerge for Los Angeles Clippers

After an epic racist rant from Donald Sterling that saw NBA Commissioner Adam Silver ban him for life, the Los Angeles Clippers are attracting a long list of potential owners.

Among those interested in making a play for the Los Angeles Clippers: a group that includes Oprah Winfrey, Oracle founder Larry Ellison and entertainment mogul David Geffen; Guggenheim Partners, owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and other entertainment properties (former Laker great Magic Johnson is a partner); Sean “Diddy” Combs; and other assorted celebrities.

If a bidding war ensues — and one is expected — Sterling will reap a considerable windfall. He paid $12.5 million for the San Diego Clippers in 1981, and the sale price is expected to exceed the $550-million Herb Kohl received for the Milwaukee Bucks. There are ties between the NBA/Clippers and the potential Winfrey ownership group: Geffen tried to buy into the Clippers four years ago before Sterling broke off negotiations, and Larry Ellison made a play for the Golden State Warriors before that team was most recently sold. There’s no doubt the NBA would love to add a minority owner with the star power of Oprah.

But don’t count out Guggenheim Partners should Johnson decide he wants to be an NBA owner. Guggenheim wiped out the competition when acquiring the Los Angeles Dodgers for a record MLB price and then justified the valuation with a huge TV contract. The Clippers TV contract is up in two years, and adding the Clippers to the Dodgers regional cable network makes a lot of economic sense.

Of course, the assumption is that Sterling will be forced to sell the team by his fellow owners. There’s little doubt that three-quarters of NBA owners will vote to force a sale; the issue is whether Sterling will fight in court to keep the Los Angeles Clippers. He may not have a very strong legal case considering the bidding war expected to happen if he puts the team on the market:

Lawyers are debating the merits of potential claim, and antitrust attorney Jeffrey I. Shinder doesn’t think Sterling would have a strong case.

“While a tactical antitrust suit is certainly possible, it should fail,” he said. “Sterling will be hard-pressed to show injury to competition as opposed to his own self-inflicted injuries. The repugnance of his conduct and its potential harm to the league and to the Clippers would easily support the NBA’s defense of such a suit.”

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