Can David Geffen Save the Clippers?

Let's make one thing clear right up front.  This is one story, and while there is some verification that David Geffen's interest in the Clippers is real, there is no indication that the Clippers (or any portion of them) are for sale.  So the odds are that Donald Sterling will remain the owner for the time being, or as Peter Vecsey put it in his article, "He'll take the Clippers to the grave with him" (hasn't he already done that?).

Still, it's a great story, and a terrific idea.  As I was reading about it, it occurred to me that there haven't been any Hollywood mogul-type owners of LA teams, despite what would seem to be a logical union.  Sure, Disney owned the Mighty Ducks and the Angels for a time, and News Corp experimented with the Dodgers, but in both of those cases, it was the corporation owning the franchise, and they soon realized that teams aren't good corporate properties.  Sports ownership only makes sense if there's some amount of ego involved, so it makes more sense for a wildly wealthy individual than for a corporation.  In LA, a record executive / movie producer makes perfect sense.

 

Let's recap what we know.  Peter Vecsey wrote in the NY Post that David Geffen is discussing purchasing a 51% interest in the Clippers from Donald Sterling.  The timing here is important - according to Vecsey's source, Geffen told Sterling "he can deliver LeBron as long as he's calling the shots." 

Both Lisa Dillman of the LA Times and Marc Stein of espn.com have confirmed that Geffen has an interest in buying the Clippers.  But the Clippers did their best to throw cold water on the hot rumor by releasing a statement through club president Andy Roeser saying that the team is not for sale.

Mr. Sterling has never expressed a desire to sell any part of his team.  Because it is an asset of remarkable value, it's true that there have been countless inquiries over the years. But the Clippers have never been for sale.

Of course, the team doesn't have to be 'for sale' in order to be sold.  If Geffen is correct that he can deliver LeBron James (and one doubts that anything is guaranteed there), then Sterling would be wise to listen.

LeBron's right hand man, Maverick Carter, was sitting next to Geffen at game 2 of the Finals on Sunday.  So it would indeed appear that there is a relationship there.  According to Stein, LeBron was also invited but chose not to attend for fear of distracting the attention away from the game itself (as if that weren't already the case).

We've discussed many times before that Donald Sterling is a "buy and hold" man.  He got rich buying real estate and watching it's value increase.  He's never shown any interest in selling the Clippers, and in one apocryphal story he supposedly turned down one billion dollars (with a b) for the team a few years back.  (Take that with a grain of salt.) 

One wonders however if he's at least intrigued by this scenario.  I mean, what if he got to keep his seats, got to keep a significant chunk of the team, got to act the NBA big shot as he always has and clearly enjoys... only now he'd get to do all of that for a team featuring LeBron James?  The conventional wisdom is that LeBron has too many good options to consider coming to a team owned by the worst owner in professional sports.  But to come to LA, to slot into the starting lineup with Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman, and to play for a team owned by a media mogul when one of the primary emphases for leaving Cleveland is to expand his media exposure?  Like I said, I don't believe that Geffen can guarantee a LeBron signing - but it's safe to say it make the Clippers significantly more attractive.

If this is going to happen, it needs to happen fast.  It's June 8, and teams can begin negotiating with free agents on July 1.  As Citizen madglove pointed out, the logistics of getting a sale price negotiated, a new owner approved by the NBA board of governors, etc. in a matter of four or five weeks is pretty daunting.  And with the official position of the Clippers today being "the team is not for sale" it seems safe to say that this transaction is not currently on the fast track.

As an aside, Vecsey's article also touches on a meeting between David Stern and Sterling, presumably concerning the Clippers' failure to pay Mike Dunleavy the money they owe him.  According to Vecsey (and this should also be taken with a grain of salt), a member of the coach's association "is encouraging a boycott of the franchise."  I'm not sure how that would work, or what it would look like, but might it explain why the Clippers have failed to interview a single coaching candidate, while jobs in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Chicago have been filled (in at least one case, with a candidate the Clippers asked permission to interview, but never did).  As I said at the time, getting into a dispute with MDsr this summer was a monumentally bad move.

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