Battle of the Billionaires: Suitors Emerge to Buy Embattled LA Clippers

Oprah Winfrey, Antony Ressler, Magic Johnson and Steve Ballmer are engaged in a bidding war for the embattled L.A. Clippers. (Photo Credits: Google Images)

Oprah Winfrey, Antony Ressler, Magic Johnson and Steve Ballmer are engaged in a bidding war for the embattled L.A. Clippers. (Photo Credits: Google Images)

The bidding war has begun. Apparently, Donald Sterling’s estranged wife has been quite busy. She allegedly met with billionaire Antony Ressler last week at a Malibu restaurant. Then she met this week at her Malibu estate with ousted Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Both meetings came on the coattails of a public bid to buy the team from a group led by David Geffen — that includes both Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Oprah Winfrey. Of course diehard basketball fans are still hoping for a Magic Johnson-owned ball club.

On its face that seems doubtful. For one: Shelly Sterling is apparently asking $1.4 billion for the team. Johnson’s net worth is roughly $500 million. Johnson could obviously put a group of investors together like Geffen, but why would he?

When the story originally surfaced, Sterling accused Johnson of setting him up to steal the Clippers away. At the time, Johnson laughed it off and said if he wanted to steal a team, it sure wouldn’t be the Clippers — meaning he would aim for the Lakers instead.

But the point is, the Clippers are drastically overvalued at $1.4 billion. A recent valuation by Forbes Magazine puts the Clippers worth at about $575 million.

That brings me back to my original point. Why? Johnson was a player, one of the best. He doesn’t need to buy a team to sit in the front row and have people recognize him. Whatever it is, ego, wanna-be-a- baller syndrome or the need to live vicariously through the athletic prowess of others that makes rich men buy athletic teams, I just don’t think Johnson’s got it. Since retiring, Johnson has amassed an impressive portfolio. He’s done so by making sound business decisions. And this just is not a sound business decision.

Of course Winfrey is also shrewd. But consider this, any one of the members of the Geffen-led investment group could easily buy the team outright yet they choose to make a group bid. That suggests, at least to me, that none of them are looking at it as strictly a business decision. In the case of Winfrey, for instance, it’s probably worth several million just to get Sterling, his pimps, his mistresses and his estranged wife with the visibly blotched cosmetic surgery the heck out of the NBA and to make sure another rich jerk doesn’t get control of the team. Geffen is old school LA, and I could see it being worth several million to just keep it in the family, not to mention LA.

But even a group of billionaires has its limits. And I wonder if Shelly Sterling’s bloated asking price is not a bit too much.

That’s why my money’s on the dark horse in this battle of the billionaires…Steve Ballmer, net worth $15.2 billion. Ballmer, after 13 years of running Microsoft (33 in a leadership role), was recently shown the door. He found himself standing flat-footed when he should have been teetering on the verge of innovation. Now he’s got a whole lot of nothing to do with a boatload of money to do it with. He represents a city that has been mourning the loss of the Sonics for nearly a decade and has already made an aggressive, though unsuccessful, attempt to woo the Sacramento Kings. And if I might add, he’s got something to prove. With contemporaries like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Paul Allen (who incidentally owns the Portland Trailblazers), it must have really stung to get ousted from a company you helped create. Ballmer may be the only billionaire suitor with enough skin in the game to stomach the $1.4 billion price tag.

What does that say for the league? Or the players? Nothing, other than it’s business as usual.

One rich white guy will replace another. The fact that the outgoing white guy is an insufferable bigot is irrelevant. He and his wife will make a profit of more than a billion as they are shown the door (Sterling bought The Clippers for $12.5 million in 1981), which is pretty much on par with the $936 million  (can you say golden parachute?) Ballmer made in stock, which soared the day he announced his “retirement.”  But hey, bringing an NBA team back to his hometown? That is guaranteed to buy Ballmer , a hero’s welcome back in Seattle.

Devona Walker is the politics editor for The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @DevonaWalker.

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