Is Magic Johnson the answer to the NBA’s Donald Sterling problem?


Clippers players listen to the national anthem wearing their warmup jerseys inside out to protest alleged racial remarks by team owner Donald Sterling before Game 4. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)

As Commissioner Adam Silver searches for a solution for exactly what to do about Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, whose alleged racially charged comments have prompted national outrage, an intriguing possibility has arisen.

It may be unthinkable, but what if the Clippers were sold to Magic Johnson, the Hall of Famer with the crosstown Lakers?

“Magic’s absolutely interested,” a source connected to Johnson’s business interests told Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Johnson became a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers with the backing of financier Mark Walter of Guggenheim Partners.

Johnson found himself dragged into the Sterling controversy immediately, when, on the first recording published by TMZ, a man believed to be the Clippers owner tells Vanessa Stiviano, to delete an Instagram photo of her with the Lakers star. Johnson quickly responded Saturday, saying he’d never attend another Clippers game and, later, that Sterling “shouldn’t own a team anymore.”

Making the switch would be tricky, but it’s a simple and palliative solution. From Wojnarowski:

For commissioner Adam Silver, the chance to turn the Clippers over to Magic Johnson and his partners is the best possible of solutions. Exit Sterling, enter Magic. It would be the greatest trade in sports ownership history since, well, Magic for the McCourts, with the Dodgers.

Magic Johnson is the ultimate cleanser in sports, and steering a Clippers sale to him could be transformative for the franchise. Truth be told, it could change the balance of basketball power in Los Angeles forever. To keep Doc Rivers as president and coach, to hold together the core of a championship contender and keep building it, Magic can make it happen.

The upside for Sterling would be the over $1 billion he’d make for selling the team and, after decades of having people look the other way at his behavior, he may have no other choice left because owners appear to now want him out. Michael Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, may rarely speak about these things, but he said Sunday that he was “obviously disgusted” as a former player and “completely outraged” as an owner.

Sterling may dearly love sitting courtside at Clippers games, but how can that possibly happen — even beyond Tuesday’s Game 5 — given the outrage from players? Still, Sterling won’t go without a fight, Harvey Araton of the New York Times writes.

Some have argued that taking on Sterling should not be players’ and coaches’ responsibility, but Commissioner Adam Silver’s and the owners’ fiduciary duty. They are wrong about that. If a league investigation announced Saturday by Silver determines it was Sterling speaking and the comments were not doctored, Silver will need his players — black and white, American and foreign — behind him as he prepares his club of billionaire owners for a move on Sterling that could get litigious and ugly. He will need the power of the league at large.

A former NBA owner, speaking Sunday on the condition of anonymity out of respect for Silver’s investigation, said of Sterling: “He’s been a thorn in the side of the league for a long time. Lawsuits, harassment, you name it. But when people talk about getting him to sell, I’m not sure that would faze him in the least.”

Enter Magic Johnson.

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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