Clippers Whispers Have Nate ’n Al’s Workers Feeling Flashbacks

The hush-hush conversations are familiar to the staff at Nate ’n Al, the Beverly Hills delicatessen where dealmakers go to hatch their plans to buy one of Los Angeles’s professional sports teams.

Two years ago it was baseball’s Dodgers, who were auctioned after Frank McCourt put the team into bankruptcy. This time it’s the Clippers, who if National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver gets his way, will soon be sold after owner Donald Sterling was banned for making racist comments. Silver is asking owners to force a sale of the team that finished with the third-best record in the NBA this season.

A Nate ’n Al employee, who asked not to be identified because management put a gag order on all things Clippers, said -- just like the Dodgers -- there’s a buzz in the restaurant, whispers coming from a who’s who of Hollywood clientele.

“There is tremendous community pride in Los Angeles and this is reflected in the community’s views of its sports teams,” said Robert Siegfried, who was a spokesman for the Dodgers during the team’s auction.

An NBA owners committee met yesterday on a conference call “to discuss the process for termination” of Sterling’s ownership, the league said in a news release, and “unanimously agreed to move forward as expeditiously as possibly and will reconvene next week.”

The Advisory/Finance Committee consists of 10 owners led by Minnesota’s Glen Taylor, and often makes recommendations to the other owners. The other committee members are Miami’s Micky Arison, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Jeanie Buss, Oklahoma City’s Clay Bennett, New York’s James Dolan, Boston’s Wyc Grousbeck, San Antonio’s Peter Holt, Phoenix’s Robert Sarver, Indiana’s Herb Simon and Toronto’s Larry Tanenbaum.

Celebrities, Moguls

Even though the team isn’t for sale yet, Hollywood celebrities and moguls are declaring their desires to replace Sterling as the owner of a team that has long existed in the shadow of the Lakers.

Former Lakers star and part owner Magic Johnson, who along with Guggenheim Partners executives bought the Dodgers, said he’d do his due diligence.

“Magic knows he’s always welcome as an owner in this league,” Silver said during a news conference announcing the penalties against Sterling, who bought the team in 1981 for about $12 million. “He’s always welcome and a close friend of the NBA family.”

Geffen’s Group

Music executive David Geffen said he’s forming a group with Oprah Winfrey and Oracle Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison. Geffen once tried to buy the Clippers, but was rebuffed by Sterling; Ellison four years ago made an unsuccessful bid for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.

Irving Azoff, the former chairman of Live National Entertainment Inc. who helped to deliver former Lakers coach Phil Jackson to the New York Knicks as team president, said he’s working with an undisclosed group, too.

Bidding on the Clippers, or at least saying so, has become de rigueur around Los Angeles, where it’s the Clippers, not Lakers, still alive in the playoffs.

The Clippers lost 100-99 last night at the Golden State Warriors, and that playoff series is now tied at three games apiece with a decisive Game 7 set for tomorrow in Los Angeles.

One executive at a major bank, who asked not to be identified because his firm would like to sell the team, said he’s already fielded Clippers-related calls from prospective buyers in China, the Middle East and India.

Local Interest

Closer to Los Angeles, the would-be buyer list includes real estate investor Rick Caruso. Lakers part owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, who is the richest man in L.A. with a net worth of $8.1 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index, has been mentioned as well.

Also expressing interest in owning the team are boxers Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya, and Sean Combs, aka Diddy, who used social media to say his allegiance to the Knicks wouldn’t deter his pursuit of the Clippers. “I am a businessman. #DiddyBuyTheClippers #NameYourPrice,” he wrote on Twitter.

The frenzy is akin to what happened with the Dodgers, whose bidding groups included some of the team’s former players and billionaires like Steve Cohen, chairman of Point72 Asset Management LP, which used to be called SAC Capital.

Like the Dodgers, who sold for a baseball-record $2.15 billion, sports bankers said the Clippers will probably set a new price mark for an NBA team.

“When sales processes have occurred of such entities they have generated very visible interest from parties living in and associated with Los Angeles,” Siegfried said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.