With Clippers owner Donald Sterling banned from the NBA, is Magic Johnson a possible replacement?

Tasos Katopodis

With the possibility of Donald Sterling being forced to sale the L.A. Clippers, NBA legend and L.A. Sparks owner Magic Johnson is reportedly interested in purchasing the franchise.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has announced today that embattled L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling will be banned for life from the NBA and that a process to force a sale of the team.

Shortly thereafter, former NBA player and Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson followed up Silver's press conference with a strong statement in support of pushing Sterling out of the league. In the days leading up to the announcement, everyone from Snoop Dogg to Oprah Winfrey to President Barack Obama has weighed in on this issue and called for decisive action of the magnitude that Silver meted out.

And as Johnson and others have said in the wake of Silver's pronouncement, this is just one (small) step forward for a nation that is still struggling with a long legacy of racism as well as intersectional sexism and misogyny.

I'm not going to go more deeply into this story here because I've already written about it for SB Nation's Golden State of Mind where it's a bit more relevant as the Clippers are currently facing the Golden State Warriors in the 2014 NBA Playoffs, but if you haven't been keeping up with the story I would recommend the following five articles for some perspective:

Bomani Jones might actually have the only take on this situation that you need to hear.

Yet there is a tangentially-related WNBA storyline here as well.

First, while NBA owners have made statements about Sterling ranging from "sincere" to "self-preservation" in the words of Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, four WNBA owners have come out with statements against Sterling: Sam Combs of the Tulsa Shock, Ted Leonsis of the Washington Wizards/Mystics, Peter Holt of the San Antonio Spurs/Stars, and, of course, Magic Johnson of the L.A. Sparks. To the point of both D'Alessandro's and Jenkins' articles above, just the fact that a third of the WNBA's ownership has spoken up while about 2/3 of the NBA's ownership has remained silent is a somewhat troubling commentary on what has gone on in the league.

Second, Johnson's connection to the story is obviously particularly strong because he was the subject of Sterling's initial racist comments that came to the public light and was among the first to put Sterling on blast on social media. However, the story might not end for Johnson: Wojnarowski has reported that Johnson has been interested in buying a NBA team for some time and will be making a play for the Clippers, despite public statements to the contrary:

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.

TMZ has also reported that real estate developer Rick Caruso is also willing to buy the team and with official news that the team might come available for sale, we can probably expect others to line up to bid on a team that is extremely valuable and possibly increasingly so after years of ineptitude under Sterling's reign.

But Johnson would have to be considered an attractive candidate to the league to move the Clippers past this mess.

"Can you imagine the irony in just that," sports marketing expert David Spencer said during a phone interview conducted for an article published at Golden State of Mind today. "From a sponsorship side, he would definitely add value - there's no question about that. He's very well-liked among various brands, among fans, and among people in this business from a marketing standpoint and from a player perspective. So yeah, I think he is very well-liked but it's way too early to say. He's definitely capable of raising the funds, financing. He's part of the Guggenheim Fund, which has billions and billions of dollars, so this would be a drop in the bucket for them."

Johnson has denied his interest in a team, but if he wants into the NBA this is about his best opportunity. Yet what really makes the revelation about Johnson's interest in the Clippers interesting for WNBA fans is the notion that his interest in the Sparks was at the very least heightened by the idea that it would help him in his long-term goal of buying a NBA team. For a group rich enough to buy the Dodgers, Sparks and make a legit play for a NBA team - in addition to potential interest in a NFL team - that's not a problem but it certainly helps us fill in the blanks for how Johnson came to be interested in the WNBA if true.

And ultimately, it's a fitting bonus punishment for Sterling's years of racist action.

For more on the process Johnson went through to buy the Sparks, check out our L.A. Sparks offseason storystream.

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