Money is polarizing. It can buy you opportunity and luxury just as it can wedge a permanent foot between you and normalcy. It can provide a platform otherwise unattainable. With enough of it, you can buy an island or you can refute your plutocracy and maintain a simplistic lifestyle a la Warren Buffet. Wealth can be burdensome, advantageous, or whatever adjective you want it to be. Some break beneath its weight. Donald Sterling certainly did.
The next owner of the Los Angeles Clippers will inherit more than a team. They will obtain a franchise that was the dumpster fire of the NBA for more than three decades–seasons and contracts riddled with maladies–that have only recently turned successful and lucrative. Sterling bought the team for $12.5 million in 1981. The Clips are now worth at least $575 million.
Once Donald Sterling is forced to sell the franchise, which he will be, the team is put on auction. Most likely the franchise will fetch more than figure mentioned earlier, and a bidding war will decide its control. The auction process is incredibly drawn out and if Sterling files an injunction against the league it will lengthen.
Checkbooks will decide the auction. The Clips are one of two teams in the Los Angeles major media market, and the buying price will likely skyrocket past $600 million.
Competitive merit doesn’t equate asking price. For example, the least valued franchise in the league at $405 million according to Forbes is the Milwaukee Bucks. Last month they were sold for $550 million. The Bucks won 15 games this season, the Clips won 57.
Sterling’s successors are buying the opportunity to cauterize elements of the Kafkaesque narrative that permanently blankets our country from a bleeding Los Angeles. Being a plutocrat means exhibiting your morality to the masses when it breaks. It means watching the exodus of friends and family, while you and your ignorance are embalmed at the modern-day equivalent of a stake.
Sterling has been burning for weeks.
Not 48 hours after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life alongside a fine of $2.5 million, nearly a dozen potential owners emerged. Athletes, CEOs, media proprietors, hip-hop icons, actors, and real estate magnates have vocalized interest in the franchise.
Discourse surrounding privilege and bigotry pigeonholes itself; we often think in solutions and solvency rather than continuity. As much as Sterling’s ignorance sparked an always-necessary dialogue, the opportunity to assess ownership in modern-day sports has largely been avoided. There’s responsibility in inheriting ignorance just as there’s accountability in dislodging chains, whether they’re physical or mental. As Grantland’s Wesley Morris put it:
Ownership matters because it brings us back to the plantation, the second primal scene of racial conflict in this country (the first, of course, being the American plains).
In a league that is overwhelmingly comprised of black athletes, 76.3 percent as of 2013, it’s crucial we acknowledge the responsibility inherently affixed to the successor.
Ownership paradigms in the NBA–like all professional sporting leagues–are individualized for the intelligentsia. There are the Marc Cubans of the league who position their seats close to the bench and actively recruit talent to fill gaping roster needs. Then there are the Peter Holts who leave basketball operations to the head coach and instead focus their work on the financial elements of ownership. Ownership is individualized and shapes the franchise.
Candidate #1: Oprah Winfrey, David Geffen, Larry Ellison
A gay man and a black woman teaming up with the No. 5 richest man in the world to buy the franchise is easily Donald Sterling’s worst nightmare. That’s not enough of a reason to hand them the keys, but the trio does hold an extensive track record of successfully managing businesses, and navigating large media markets. The price tag is certainly a non-factor in this situation, as the three have enough money to buy and sell the franchise multiple times over.
Pros: Clearly the most ownership experience of all candidates
Cons: No experience in sport ownership
Candidate #2: Don Peebles
New York-based real estate magnate Don Peebles, a black business owner, is gathering a team of investors. His $4.5 billion portfolio makes his pitch practical, but it’ll heavily depend on those he teams with. He plans to name his team in the coming weeks.
Peebles is the largest African American real estate developer in the United States and is a member of President Obama’s National Finance Committee. His net worth is approximately $500 million.
CNBC asked him last week what he thought would be the “right price” for the franchise. His response? $500-750 million.
He vowed to take more active concern for the players if he were to buy the team, providing him with a unique selling point. In the past Peebles has given financial counsel to active NBA players. A team with open communication channels from player to owner could have very measurable advantages for the culture of a franchise.
Pros: Businessman, has an affinity for professional basketball, history of mentorship for current NBA players
Cons: Looking for the “right price,” no experience in sport ownership
Candidate #3: Magic Johnson
The former Laker HOF point guard came to Los Angeles around the same time Sterling bought the Clippers. Johnson, who was the target of the Sterling rant, would provide the ultimate karmic justice. Actor Matt Damon voiced interest in teaming with Johnson if he were to explore the venture. As Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported:
Despite his denial of ownership interest in the Clippers, Magic Johnson and potential investors spent part of Monday working to understand the avenues to which they could eventually make a deal to become Clippers owners, sources told Yahoo Sports. If the franchise becomes available, Johnson wants to be positioned to make a deal.
Pros: Has ownership experience (currently part of the Los Angeles Dodgers ownership group), is a basketball legend, understanding of the Los Angeles media market
Cons: Not heavily considered a favorite in the running, financial limitations
Candidate #4: Floyd Mayweather
Undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather was one of the first to express interest. However, Mayweather–who has made more than $350 million in prize money–carries a history of racial intolerance and domestic abuse. It’s very unlikely the Clippers will follow Sterling with a polarizing athlete.
Pros: Might be the best promoter in sports
Candidate #5: Diddy, Rick Ross, YG
Sean Combs (Diddy), formerly known as P. Diddy and Puff Daddy, is worth an estimated $700 million, making him the wealthiest hip-hop artist alive.
Rick Ross brings very little to the table.
YG has already requested a name and jersey change that makes absolutely zero sense.
Pros: Diddy is the majority owner of Revolt TV and has ownership experience in the music industry
Cons: Rick Ross, YG
Candidate #6: Oscar de la Hoya
Retired boxing superstar Oscar de la Hoya has publically stated interest in the team. Like Mayweather, he has a history with the justice system, including a rape allegation that was settled out of court in 2001. Have to feel like that is a deal-breaker.
Pros: Has business experience (founded Golden Boy Promotions, holds stake in Major League Soccer team Houston Dynamo)
Cons: History of legal problems, no experience with NBA market
Candidate #7: Frankie Muniz
Pros: Malcolm in the Middle
Cons: Too many. Most notably: everything since Agent Cody Banks
Candidate #8: Tracy Morgan
Pros: 30 Rock
Cons: Everything else