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Report: Magic Johnson wants to buy the Clippers from Donald Sterling

Apr 28, 2014, 9:15 AM EDT

The initial alleged Donald Sterling tape centered around a fight a person believed to be the Clippers owner was having with his girlfriend. The source of the dispute? Of all things, a photo posted to Instagram of her and Magic Johnson.

That won’t be the last you hear of Johnson in this controversy.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Magic Johnson and his billionaire backers, the Guggenheim Partners, want a chance to purchase the Los Angeles Clippers, league sources told Yahoo Sports. “Magic’s absolutely interested,” one source closely connected to Johnson’s business interests told Yahoo Sports on Sunday night.

Magic Johnson and Guggenheim had been aggressive in pursuing a purchase of the Los Angeles Lakers – only to have the Buss family make clear to them the franchise isn’t for sale, sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Dodgers group is serious about owning an NBA team, and the league knows it. Together, they arranged for Johnson and the Guggenheim Partners to purchase the WNBA’s cash-strapped Los Angeles Sparks in February. The league office needed someone to spare it the embarrassment of the WNBA’s flagship franchise folding, and Magic and Guggenheim bailed it out. This hadn’t been born out of a sense of benevolence, but rather a pragmatic move to deeper ingratiate themselves with the NBA.

Magic Johnson and partners buying the Clippers would be better for everyone involved.

  • It would be better for the Clippers, who’d have an owner with human decency and a greater capability of building a quality organization.
  • It would be better for Johnson, who clearly wants to own an NBA team.
  • It would be better for Sterling, who would get a massive payout and escape public scrutiny, maybe even allowing time to repair his image.
  • It would be better for the NBA, which would rid itself of a black eye and liability and welcome a beloved former superstar back into a formal role.

But the NBA is not a communist state that can unilaterally imposed measures to achieve the greater good. NBA Commission Adam Silver’s power is limited by the league’s constitution.

Sterling, perhaps pushed by Silver and the other owners, might choose to sell the team. In the face of mounting public criticism, maybe even Sterling becomes embarrassed enough to bow out. Most people would see getting denounced by the president of the United States as a wakeup call.

Nobody has ever mistaken Sterling for most people, though. Besides, selling isn’t in his nature. In real estate, he keeps his properties rather than flipping them.

And even if Sterling does sell the Clippers, Johnson and his partners would probably need to submit the highest bid. Sterling being persuaded to sell is one thing. Sterling being persuaded to sell and leave money on the table is another.

And excuse me if this doesn’t make Johnson look a little opportunistic. He’s not really a victim in this any more than all minorities are victims of people like Sterling is alleged to be. Johnson’s name just happened to get mentioned in the tape because of an Instagram photo.

But if he can play this into an opening to buy the team, it sounds like he would.

Appearing on ABC’s pregame show yesterday, Johnson said of Sterling: “He shouldn’t own a team anymore. And he should stand up and say, ‘I don’t want to own a team anymore.’”

I agree with Johnson’s sentiment, and I’m sure most do. It’s just not so simple, and I don’t think Johnson escalating the public-relations battle against Sterling while also angling to buy the team is productive.

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