Moguls Winfrey, Geffen, Ellison Weigh Bid for Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers aren’t even for sale, and deep-pocketed celebrities from Oprah Winfrey to Magic Johnson are already lining up to consider bidding for the National Basketball Association team.

Winfrey, the former talk-show host turned network owner, is discussing a joint bid for the Clippers with fellow billionaires David Geffen, the ex-music industry executive, and Oracle Corp. Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison. Irving Azoff, the former chairman of Live Nation Entertainment Inc., is also putting together a group, he said in an e-mail. Johnson, the Hall of Fame basketball player and part owner of baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, said he was interested.

“I will be owning an NBA team at some time,” Johnson said yesterday at the Milken Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California.

“It has to be the right situation. Is the Clippers the right situation? Of course, it’s one of the premier franchises. Despite what we think of him, he’s done a good job with the business,” Johnson said of team owner Donald Sterling. “So we’ll just have to see.”

An NBA owners committee meets today to discuss Commissioner Adam Silver’s recommendation that Sterling be forced to sell the Clippers, after he was recorded asking a female friend not to bring black people, including Johnson, to games or post pictures of them on Instagram. Sterling, the NBA’s longest-serving owner, hasn’t said whether he would acquiesce to a sale. That hasn’t stopped potential buyers.

Minority Presence

“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,” Nicole Nichols, a spokeswoman for Winfrey, said in an e-mailed statement.

Should the team go on the block, the NBA will be looking for a buyer with financial resources, a viable plan and knowledgeable management, said David M. Carter, principal with Sports Business Group in Los Angeles. Having celebrity or two among the ownership group could make a bid more attractive, he said.

“In this market a minority presence is going to be important, and also being credible in our community is going to be important,” said Carter, who also is executive director of the Marshall Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California.

Johnson played for the Los Angeles Lakers and once owned a piece of the team, which he sold in 2010. If the Clippers became available, he would talk to Guggenheim Partners executives Mark Walter and Todd Boehly, he said. Together they paid $2.15 billion, a record amount, for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ownership Quest

Mike Sitrick, an outside spokesman for Guggenheim Partners, the closely held financial services firm, declined to comment.

Geffen said he is friends with Winfrey and Ellison. He and Ellison tried unsuccessfully to buy the Lakers a couple of years ago, he said.

“Larry and I have been talking about buying a team for years,” Geffen said in a phone interview from his New York apartment. “We thought it would be important to have a black owner, so I called Oprah.”

In the recording, posted on the website TMZ, Sterling told a woman who accompanied him to Clippers games he didn’t mind her friendships with black people, just that he didn’t want them public.

Sterling’s Options

“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” he told the woman, who was identified by TMZ as V. Stiviano.

“Why publicize it on the Instagram and why bring it to my game?” asked Sterling, 80.

The NBA’s Silver has fined Sterling $2.5 million and banned him from the game for life. Silver also urged NBA owners to force a sale of the team.

Sterling is a Los Angeles real estate investor with a net worth of $1.9 billion, according to Forbes. Fox News quoted Sterling this week saying he has no intention of parting with the franchise.

Ellison has an estimated net worth of $45.1 billion, eighth in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which put Geffen’s fortune at $5.7 billion.