An initial round of bidding for the Los Angeles Clippers closed Wednesday with at least three potential buyers making offers and predicting that the winner will pay well over $1 billion, according to three people involved in the sale.
Team co-owner Shelly Sterling did not release details of the bids for the team her husband, Donald, bought more than three decades ago for $12.5 million.
A group that includes Los Angeles-based investors Tony Ressler and Bruce Karsh, along with former NBA star Grant Hill, offered $1.2 billion for the Clippers, a representative close to the partners said Wednesday. That bid is more than double the highest price ever paid for an NBA team. The Milwaukee Bucks were sold this month for a record $550 million.
The size of the other offers has not been disclosed and the suitors expect another round of bidding.
The sale, guided by team co-owner Shelly Sterling and Bank of America, comes a little more than a month after racially charged remarks by Donald Sterling angered NBA fans, advertisers and players.
Although Shelly Sterling wants a quick sale, several hurdles remained: selecting a winning bid, gaining the cooperation of her 80-year-old husband, and eventually persuading three-quarters of the NBA's other owners to sign off on the deal. The first two steps need to occur in the next few days to beat a deadline Tuesday, when NBA owners are scheduled to vote in New York on whether to strip the Sterlings of ownership of the Clippers.
Members of a subcommittee of owners were informed that the vote might be unnecessary if the sale of the Clippers is moving ahead.
Sterling, the team's controlling owner, remains a wild card. His lawyer said that the billionaire real estate investor planned to fight the league's sanctions. That is reversal from last week, when Donald Sterling sent the NBA a letter saying he would let his wife of 58 years sell the franchise.
Sterling's attorney Maxwell Blecher said his client was re-energized this week to contest being labeled a racist, which he has vehemently denied. Sterling wants the formal allegations by the league against him dropped, and perhaps some additional concession, before signing off on a sale of the Clippers.
"He wants something to suggest that 'I, Donald Sterling, don't die with this stigma from this controversy over my head,'" Blecher said Wednesday, though the lawyer conceded he was not sure what would mollify the NBA's longest-tenured owner.
After a recording was leaked of Sterling's admonishment to his companion, V. Stiviano, for appearing in public with blacks, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned the Clippers owner for life from the league, fined him $2.5 million and urged the other owners to force Sterling to sell the team.
In another development that seemed to remove one possible impediment to a deal, it appeared that Shelly Sterling had given up her insistence on keeping a minority stake in the team. The half owner, who is 79, had expressed a desire to hold on to one-third, or less, of the Clippers, a proposal the league has deemed unacceptable.
The term sheet the bidders responded to before Wednesday's deadline was for a purchase of 100% of the franchise, which is held in the Sterlings' family trust.
Shelly Sterling's representatives declined to comment on her expectations, though potential buyers said they could accommodate her requests to keep her preferred seating and parking at Staples Center.
Among the bidders for the team are:
• The Ressler-Karsh-Hill group, with its $1.2 billion offer and ties to the sports world. Ressler is a minority owner of baseball's Milwaukee Brewers and co-founder of the investment firm Ares Management. Karsh is a part owner of the NBA's Golden State Warriors and co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, as well as chairman of Tribune Co., which owns The Times. Hill is a former NBA all-star who finished his career with the Clippers. The two money managers are both based in L.A.
• A group that includes principals from Guggenheim Partners, the firm that brought the Dodgers two years ago for more than $2 billion. Guggenheim co-founder Mark Walter and President Todd Boehly are teaming with three billionaires who previously said they would launch a bid for the Clippers: music and movie mogul David Geffen, Oracle software co-founder Larry Ellison and TV personality Oprah Winfrey.
• Steve Ballmer, who until recently was chief executive of Microsoft. Ballmer joined hedge fund manager Chris Hansen last year in an offer to buy the Sacramento Kings and move the basketball team to Seattle. The NBA rejected the bid.
A representative of one of the bidders' groups said an offer is expected to come from a group backed by Middle Eastern investors.
Shelly Sterling's advisors have told potential buyers they plan to announce the winning bid expeditiously, though they did not give specifics. Three-quarters of the NBA's other 29 owners would have to sign off on any sale by the Sterlings.