The Clippers could have a new owner within a few months if Donald Sterling accepts the lifetime ban from the NBA and $2.5-million fine issued against him by the league Tuesday morning, analysts said.
But if the real estate mogul and trained lawyer decides not to cooperate, the sale of the team could drag on indefinitely.
“If he truly doesn’t want to sell, I’m going to guess he could tie this up for the rest of his life,” said Notre Dame sports economics professor Richard Sheehan. “It would be an absolute disaster.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Sterling’s punishment Tuesday after comments by the Clippers owner were posted online last week. Soon afterward, the NBA Players Assn. said it wants league owners to vote immediately on whether to force Sterling to sell the team.
Analysts believe Sterling could sell the team for as much as $1 billion, especially if an auction creates a bidding war. A transaction could wrap up within a year, if not before the next NBA season starts in November.
But Sterling may choose expensive and time-consuming litigation to keep his claim on the Clippers.
“It’s distasteful, it’s disgusting, but what he said is still ostensibly private conduct,” said Robert Boland, a professor of sports business at New York University’s Tisch Center.
Sterling could also launch a protracted anti-trust argument against the NBA, though most experts said he’d probably be standing on weak legal grounds because he had previously agreed to the league’s constitution.
Still, any courtroom tussle is “going to be ugly,” said Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of sports economics at Smith College.
“It’s going to cost a lot of money,” he said. “It’s going to keep his name in bad repute. It’s going to damage the team, which won’t perform well, and it may face some kind of boycott and maybe damage the sales value.”
A legal battle could leave the Clippers in management purgatory, costing Sterling as much as $500 million, Zimbalist said.
Still, Sterling is often considered to be litigious and an aggressive negotiator.
“It doesn’t mean Donald Sterling is going to go quietly into the night -- he may fight it at every turn,” said David M. Carter, executive director of the USC Marshall Sports Business Institute.