LOS ANGELES: NBA owners will likely force out the disgraced Donald Sterling (pictured top right), one owner said Wednesday, as speculation intensified about who would snap up the Los Angeles Clippers after the billionaire was banned for making racist comments.
National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver hit the 80-year-old Sterling with a lifetime ban from all NBA activities and the maximum $2.5m fine on Tuesday, steep penalties that drew praise from far and wide -- including US President Barack Obama.
A three-quarters vote of owners is needed to force the real estate tycoon to sell -- he is the longest-serving owner in the NBA after buying the team for $12m in 1981.
Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive told ESPN Radio that he expects a unanimous 29-0 vote in favor.
A forced sale could come at an opportune time for Sterling, whose club has been valued by Forbes at $575m but could go for much more with the NBA preparing to renegotiate its lucrative national television contract.
But Sterling hasn’t shied away from litigation in the past and could choose to fight expulsion from the league through the courts.
He did not immediately respond to Silver’s sanctions and has kept a low profile since a recording of his racist comments surfaced on Saturday.
Four-time NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James said Sterling has to go, no matter how long the fight.
“The job is still not done,” James said after Miami Heat training, in comments reported by The Miami Herald. “We need the owners to step up and do their part... No matter how long it takes, no matter how much it costs, we need to get him out of there.”
Sterling’s comments, uttered to his girlfriend and made public by celebrity news website TMZ, sparked a firestorm within the league -- in which most of the players are black -- and beyond.
Sterling, who confirmed to the NBA that it was his voice on the recording, told his girlfriend that he did not want her associating with black people or bringing black friends to Clippers games.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” says Sterling, who is married.
Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers, whose team emerged from the quagmire of the scandal on Tuesday to beat the Golden State Warriors and seize a 3-2 lead in their first-round playoff series, preached patience.
“The quicker this is done, the better for everyone. Having said that, it’s going to take time and we all have to be patient,” Rivers said.
Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, the interim chair of the NBA Board of Governors, said much the same to the Pioneer Press newspaper.
“We are going to start the process immediately and just selling of a club certainly takes months,” Taylor said.
“I think there are people interested in buying it, so I’m not worried about that.”
Hollywood moguls, sports stars and rappers have all voiced interest.
“Do we want to buy the Clippers? Yes, we do,” undefeated welterweight world champion Floyd Mayweather said in Las Vegas, according to ESPN. “It’s not just talk,” he commented while showing his resolve.
Oscar de la Hoya, an Olympic gold medalist and former world champion turned boxing promoter, also threw his hat into the ring.
“The league has made it known that it wants more minorities involved, and as a proud Mexican-American.
“I will bring a different perspective to the NBA in general, and the Clippers in particular,” he said.
NBA Hall of Famer and former Los Angeles Lakers great Earvin “Magic” Johnson, whose photo with Sterling’s girlfriend in part prompted the owner’s racist tirade, is a part-owner of the city’s beloved Dodgers.
But he could be looking to expand his sports empire.
In a tweet on an ESPN report, Johnson -- who once owned a stake in the Lakers -- said “they’re right one day I do want to own an NBA franchise!”
Sports stars were not the only ones apparently getting into the game.
Billionaire media tycoon David Geffen -- who reportedly sought to buy the Clippers in 2010 -- told Forbes on Tuesday he “would very much like to buy the team” if Sterling is forced to sell.
Television talk show queen Oprah Winfrey as well as software billionaire Larry Ellison have been mentioned as potential co-investors with Geffen.
The financial appeal of an NBA team in the major market of Los Angeles was clear in rap mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs’s tweet on the subject.
“I will always be a Knicks fan, but I am a business man. #DiddyBuyTheClippers #NameYourPrice.” AFP