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Exit strategy for NBA, Donald Sterling: Sell Clippers to Magic Johnson

Exit strategy for NBA, Donald Sterling: Sell Clippers to Magic Johnson

For all these despicable revelations tumbling out of the hateful heart of Donald Sterling, there promises construction of a roadmap to redemption for the Los Angeles Clippers and the NBA. There's a way out for the most hated man in Los Angeles now, a way out for the commissioner's office and the owners responsible for long legitimizing and harboring a bigot and slumlord.

Magic Johnson and his billionaire backers, the Guggenheim Partners, want a chance to purchase the Los Angeles Clippers, league sources told Yahoo Sports. "Magic's absolutely interested," one source closely connected to Johnson's business interests told Yahoo Sports on Sunday night.

To bail themselves out of the NBA's worst crisis of credibility since the Tim Donaghy officiating scandal, the easy part for the NBA will be enlisting the eagerness and financial muscle of Magic Johnson and Mark Walter of the Guggenheim Partners – owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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.

Make no mistake: Magic's Dodgers group is angling for a Southern California sports empire. Magic Johnson and Guggenheim had been aggressive in pursuing a purchase of the Los Angeles Lakers – only to have the Buss family make clear to them the franchise isn't for sale, sources told Yahoo Sports.

 

Nevertheless, this is business and Magic's willing to change colors and make himself a Clipper. Between the Dodgers and Clippers, Magic Johnson could be the face of two championship contenders.

Magic could have it all.

"This is 100 percent Magic's plan," a league official intimately involved in the buying and selling of franchises told Yahoo Sports.

As an exit strategy, Sterling could walk away with a $1 billion-plus sales price for his franchise, and a final act of goodwill to soften his exile into the sports netherworld. Sterling will be reviled forever, but he has to understand clearing the way for Magic Johnson and the $200 billion-plus group backing him could be a decent farewell punctuating a most indecent ownership tenure. Sterling made Magic Johnson a part of those hideous audio tapes that have started to crumble his Clippers ownership, and here's the old man's way to make it right.

After all, he has little choice left. Sterling will never be able to sit courtside for a Clippers game again, never be able to march through his locker room glad-handing players. All the reasons Sterling has loved owning an NBA team, well, they're all gone.

Across the league now, owners want Sterling out. They should've done so years ago, but understand every franchise will now pay a price for failing to remove Sterling. Finally, they're pushing Silver to find a way. These owners are on the clock, and they know it.

"If the owners can't force [Sterling] to sell, they need to be held accountable to change the bylaws so they can," one member of the NBA's Board of Governors told Yahoo Sports on Sunday. "A fine and suspension is meaningless, and that'll be seen as a lack of acceptance that the league and owners are responsible for this ass----."

The Dodgers group is serious about owning an NBA team, and the league knows it. Together, they arranged for Johnson and the Guggenheim Partners to purchase the WNBA's cash-strapped Los Angeles Sparks in February. The league office needed someone to spare it the embarrassment of the WNBA's flagship franchise folding, and Magic and Guggenheim bailed it out. This hadn't been born out of a sense of benevolence, but rather a pragmatic move to deeper ingratiate themselves with the NBA.

 

So Sunday, Johnson goes on national television and tells everyone: Donald Sterling should lose the Clippers. He's right. The NBA will move to suspend Sterling in the short-term and turn its army of lawyers onto a way to force Sterling into a sale. Magic Johnson could always see the court, the next play, and it's unfolding now. It won't be easy. It won't be tidy.

For now, it's the ultimate escape plan for the NBA, the ultimate exit for Donald Sterling. Magic Johnson wants the Clippers, and it could change Los Angeles basketball – change the NBA – forever.

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