The strange saga of the San Diego Clippers continued today as Los Angeles Laker President Jerry Buss said he would not veto Clipper owner Donald Sterling's proposed move to Los Angeles, despite recent indications to the contrary.
Buss' words came too late to prevent the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission from filing a $50-million antitrust suit against him because of reports that he would veto the Clippers' move.
Meanwhile, a San Diego businessman says that Sterling told him, "I want out--find me a buyer." Sterling would not comment. It is unlikely a buyer will be found before Tuesday, when the NBA votes on Sterling's proposal to move his team to the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
While the eyes of the sports media are focused here on Hotel del Coronado and the NBA meetings, the ears are tuned in 100 miles to the north, where Sterling, Buss and the other Beverly Hills NBA owners are waging a bizarre duel of words.
While Buss waffles, Sterling has remained silent since the June 7 announcement by the coliseum commission that it had signed a long-term lease with the Clippers. Given Buss' business relationships with Indiana majority owner and Los Angeles entrepreneur Frank Mariani, as well as Buss' friendship with Sterling and Sterling's business relationships with Mariani, it is possible the surface maneuverings are only the tip of a strategic iceberg.
This much is certain: When the Clipper-L.A. Coliseum lease was announced, Buss said he would welcome the competition. Tuesday, Buss' front man, Bob Steiner, said Buss "opposed the move."
"Hopefully, I can explain how those statements are compatible," Buss said today. "I welcome the competition, but in terms of business it is obvious it isn't going to be a friendly competition."
Buss said he would not veto Sterling's move, which may make the coliseum suit a moot point.
However, the other owners may.
"This is a very serious situation," Mariani said, "A very good friend, Don Sterling, has taken action that can hurt a very good friend and business partner, Jerry Buss, and I'm not happy about it."
Mariani and Buss are reportedly partners in at least four ventures, including the Forum, the Lakers, Market Square Arena in Indianapolis and Mariani-Buss Associates. Mariani and Sterling are said to be partners in a thoroughbred stable.
Sterling bought the team a year ago for $13.5 million and then staggered through a season of financial difficulties.
"I sense in the discussions I had with him that he has been overcome with all the events," said Leon Parma, who heads the Greater San Diego Sports Association. "He frankly said, 'I want out--get me a buyer.' "
"Who's going to give him $13.5 million for this team?" said Clipper Coach Paul Silas. "Until something happens, I don't worry. After it happens, I'll worry."