Move over, Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers may soon have a new owner.
Oprah Winfrey tops the list of potential buyers to take over the NBA playoff team, her spokesman confirmed Wednesday, potentially ousting the current owner after he was banned for life from the league, fined millions, and disgraced for racist remarks against African-Americans.“Oprah Winfrey is in discussions with David Geffen and Larry Ellison to make a bid for the Los Angeles Clippers should the team become available,” spokesman Nicole Nichols said in a statement.
The billionaires are just a few of the potential buyers clamoring to take over the Clippers after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver vowed to do “everything in his power” to pressure Sterling out.
Carrying on the impromptu slogan “We Are One,” fans gave the Clippers a standing ovation when the team took the court Tuesday night to win a crucial playoff game against the Golden State Warriors, 113-103. On the scoreboard, where many advertisements were pulled over Sterling’s remarks, the Clippers flashed images of fans carrying signs that said ”For Sale: Racists need not apply.”
The NBA slapped Sterling with a lifelong ban from the league and a stiff $2.5 million fine – the highest allowed under NBA bylaws, yet nothing compared to Sterling’s $1.9 billion net worth.
Sterling’s vitriolic comments, and the visceral reaction in return, raised the stakes for those seeking justice from the freshly-minted NBA commissioner. With little more than three months on the job under his belt, Silver personally apologized to basketball greats during a press conference in New York Tuesday, and leaned into Sterling with the full weight of his authority.
“The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful,” Silver said. “That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage.”
Other NBA teams participating in the playoffs joined in solidarity amid the controversy by wearing black socks and turning their warm-up uniforms inside out to hide their team names. Team members on Golden State’s team even planned a dramatic walk-out, timed just after tip-off, had the NBA commissioner pushed for anything other than the maximum penalty against Sterling. Following the NBA’s announcement, several teams replaced their branded websites and social media accounts with all-black backgrounds displaying the same message: “We Are One.” Basketball greats from Magic Johnson, who was a target of Sterling’s racist rant, to Kareem Abdul Jabbar hailed Silver’s “great leadership,” calling the penalties ”so on the mark.”
The question now is how far these teams – and their owners – will go in penalizing Sterling. While most of the 30 teams in the league have already voiced support for Silver’s actions, it is unclear whether the Board of Governors will have the three-quarters votes of the owners necessary to force Sterling to sell the team. Owners of the Chicago Bulls were the first to explicitly back Silver’s recommendations to push Sterling out, and the co-owner of the Golden State Warriors said he hoped the board would “act promptly to put this chapter behind us.”
“When the board ultimately considers his overall fitness to be an owner in the NBA, they will take into account a lifetime of behavior,” Silver said.
Sterling’s racist remarks hit a nerve for many in a sport where more than three-quarters of the players are black. They followed a series of lawsuits and racial discrimination allegations that critics say should have prompted the NBA to give him the boot years ago.
The tipping point came after TMZ Sports released a recorded phone conversation over the weekend that captured Sterling ranting at his girlfriend, who is black and Hispanic, for appearing in public with African-Americans.
“There is no negativity. I love everybody,” Sterling said in the recording. “I’m just saying in your lousy f***** Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people … You can sleep with them. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that, and not to bring them to my games.”
Sterling, who has not come forward publicly since the recordings landed, confirmed to the NBA that the voice in the recording was his. The 80-year-old first bought the team in 1981 for $12 million, making him the longest standing owner in NBA history. Sterling oversaw the team as it became notorious as one of the worst in the league only until very recently. Forbes estimates the team is now valued at around $575 million, and analysts believe the team could sell for much, much more.
Sterling’s recorded remarks opened wounds that rippled through the league as companies fled from any association with the team’s owner and advertisers pulled their money. Corporate sponsors – including State Farm, Virgin America, Kia, CarMax and Red Bull – began pulling deals with the Clippers. Many stood by the NBA’s punitive actions against Sterling, but held back on reinstating their suspended sponsorships until the further actions against the owner were cleared up.
Following the NBA press conference, the team released a statement saying the players “wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision.”
“Now the healing process begins,” the statement said.