Breakout

Winning ugly: How Donald Sterling tripled the value of the Clippers in 5 months

Jeff Macke
Breakout
Sterling responds to NBA, June 3 hearing still on
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FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2011 file photo, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling watches the Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling responded to the NBA's attempt to oust him on Tuesday, May 27, 2014, arguing that there is no basis for stripping him of his team because his racist statements were illegally recorded "during an inflamed lovers' quarrel in which he was clearly distraught." (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok, File)

According to ESPN’s Bill Simmons quoting Bloomberg, the initial bids for the Los Angeles Clippers are expected to be made by 5:00 p.m. Wednesday. If true, this would mark a remarkably fast denouement to what once looked to be a protracted legal battle.

As for the price, earlier this year the Clippers were valued at $575 million by Forbes.  As it became clear Sterling would be forced to sell late last month, the chatter was that the team could sell for $750 million to $850 million.

Those numbers are wildly, foolishly, absurdly low.

Perversely, the NBA couldn’t have driven up the value for this once-lowly franchise faster had they plotted this forced sale for years. A year ago the Clippers were less than the equivalent of a Los Angeles B-Team. Today the franchise is the premiere trophy available in North America. Buying the Clippers is an absolutely irresistible idea to anyone who can scrape together a few billion. Add the fake deadline time element thrown into the mix this afternoon, and a bid of $2.5 Billion isn’t remotely out of the question.

Consider:

1. The Lakers are suddenly a mess. Kobe is ancient and no one likes the Buss family.

2. Whoever buys the Clippers gets a once-in-a-lifetime chance to “save” the team from a racist pig people like even less than they do the Buss family. Donald Sterling is a racist Snidely Whiplash. It doesn’t matter if that’s technically “true.” This is a Hollywood franchise we’re talking about here. Let historians figure out the truth later; right now the Clippers need saving, and some very rich person gets to play Dudley Do-right.

3. The Clippers' local television deal with Fox’s Prime Ticket expires after the 2015-16 season, which is also when the NBA’s deal with TNT and Disney’s ESPN expire.  The new NBA national deal will be worth approximately a whole huge dump truck of money. The Dodgers sold for a preposterous sounding $2.15 to Guggenheim Partners and promptly made all the money back by signing an $8.35 billion TV deal that effectively pays for all the team's expenses, leaving nothing but profits. Don’t think the chance to be a hero AND look brilliant isn’t running through Clipper bidders’ minds right now.

4. The time urgency is Psych 101 huge.  Nothing chums the waters among alpha rich people like time urgency.

5. The fact that Sterling will most likely claim a forced-sale exemption on the deal means his tax credit could be worth nearly a billion by itself if he gets $2 billion for the team. That’s the kind of thing that motivates a seller.

If Magic Johnson, a picture of whom started this whole emergency sale process, gets possession of the team, conspiracy theorists will be chewing on this event for rest of our lives.

In fact, why wait? Doesn’t it seem odd to anyone how quickly the NBA decided it could no longer stand the presence of the loathsome Sterling? It does to me.

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