Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Sale of the Clippers

To quote Billy Ray Valentine from the movie Trading Places, the best way to get at rich people is to make 'em poor people. 

I suppose that by banning Donald Sterling for life (in stark contrast to one-time Ugandan dictator Idi Amin's making himself president for life), the NBA made Sterling reputationally poor (that said, they didn't really do anything that Sterling hadn't done to himself).  In making him sell the team, they are making him "trophy" poor, as in here's a rich guy who can't have his pet team any more (and if the Clippers were a pet, someone would have called the SPCA a long time ago and taken them away from him). 

But what they didn't do was make him assets poor or cash poor or any of that (and, of course, Sterling is refusing to pay the NBA's multi-million dollar fine, because a) he rejects his punishment and b) his argument probably is that if you're banning me for life -- assuming you can do that -- then how can you fine me if you've tossed me out)?  And, of course, Sterling and his estranged wife could be fighting all this because they have a history of litigation that has probably put many children of his outside law firm's partners through orthodontia, private school, private college and perhaps therapy. 

All that said, let's just suppose that the sale goes through.  Bank of America is running an auction over the weekend (it started yesterday) that might gross $1.2 billion for a good team that once was the NBA's version of the Washington Generals (except that the Generals never tried to win; the Clippers purportedly did try but messed things up so badly that the casual fan wondered whether you could have planned for the mishaps that consistently befell the Sterling-owned Clippers).  Now, I don't know what Sterling paid for this franchise say 30 years ago, but my guess is that it was less than $10 million.  The Clippers were awful, they had migrated during their history, and they always were the other team in Los Angeles (of course, in international soccer, the other team in Madrid, Athletico Madrid, won the first division of Spanish soccer, besting both Real Madrid and Barcelona, so there will be occasions when that other team prevails).

Perhaps there is a lesson in all this.  Sterling is a pariah, increasingly isolated.  He'll get his money, as will the IRS, but he'll have less to lavish it on, or so the theory goes.  No other sports league will touch him except the desperate who are looking for any lifeline to stay afloat.  He'll miss his courtside seats, he'll miss people kissing up to him because he's the owner, whatever.  He, however, will not be missed. 

But he'll have his money to console himself.  The NBA assured him of that as a parting gift.

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