Before Seattle fans start to get excited, the chance the Los Angeles Clippers will move to the Emerald City is an unlikely possibility. Donald Sterling has granted his wife, Shelly, permission to sell the team, and a meeting with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has taken place. However, if Ballmer buys the team, a move out of the City of Angels is not in the foreseeable future.
When Seattle’s bid to purchase and move the Sacramento Kings fell through, Ballmer announced he would be interested in becoming an NBA owner, even if it was not in Seattle. Now that he has left Microsoft, owning a team in Los Angeles would not be an issue for Ballmer geographically. Mrs. Sterling has made it known that she has no desire to sell the franchise to someone who would move the team out of Los Angeles.
Ballmer is only one of many interested parties talking to Shelly Sterling about purchasing the team. A group of investors led by former NBA player Grant Hill has come forward expressing interest in buying the Clippers. Ballmer and the group led by Hill are joined by a potential investor group consisting of Magic Johnson, Floyd Mayweather and Justin Bieber. Singer Rihanna, Oprah Winfrey and a number of other parties have also expressed interest in the team.
Seattle fans may not have a chance at bringing the Clippers to town. Thoughts go back to how Seattle lost the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City and this would prevent the fans from wanting Ballmer to bring a team back to town in the same way. However, if Ballmer did purchase the Clippers, it could further hamper Seattle’s chances to bring the NBA back to the Emerald City. The potential NBA owner’s group in Seattle fronted by Chris Hansen is counting on Ballmer’s money to help with either the purchase of a franchise or future expansion team.
A joint effort by the group of Magic Johnson, Bieber and Mayweather could make the most sense. A photo posted on a social network site of Sterling’s girlfriend with the Lakers great was at the center of the audio recordings that led to the NBA banning Sterling from the league for life and a move to force the sale of the team. Donald Sterling went after the former Los Angeles Lakers star in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper recently. Johnson buying the team could be considered poetic justice. Money brought in by Mayweather and Bieber could help this group reach the expected $1 billion price tag for the team.
However, it is unclear if Shelly Sterling has the authority to discuss any sale of the team. Mrs. Sterling claims she owns half the team. The NBA has never voted on or recognizes Mrs. Sterling’s claim of ownership of any part of the Clippers. The NBA has not given Mrs. Sterling the go-ahead to control the sale of the team. The league will meet on June 3 to vote to strip Sterling of his ownership. It is expected that the league will discuss and vote on Mrs. Sterlings claimed 50 percent ownership of the franchise at the same time. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had planned on the team owners voting to strip Sterling’s ownership, giving the league control of the team and the sale. The claim by Mrs. Sterling may end up as a legal battle that could postpone any sale of the team.
While the Seattle Clippers might appeal to some and give the city hope to see the NBA again soon, the chance the team would leave Los Angeles is an unlikely possibility. Ballmer buying the team would force Hansen to find another wallet to help fund any chance for the NBA to return to Seattle. In the meantime, the soap opera that is the Sterling owned Los Angeles Clippers will continue.
Commentary by Carl Auer