The story of the Los Angeles Clippers under Donald Sterling is a sad one, rife with ugly personalities, a whole lot of losing and the overriding sense that nothing good ever survives the karmic poison its bigoted, slumlord owner injects.
But maybe that story can have happy ending, courtesy of none other than Magic Johnson.
UPDATE: Monday, April 28, at 8:45 p.m. ET by Grant Hughes
Johnson addressed the issue of potentially purchasing the Clippers directly in a tweet:
To NBA Fans, I want to put a stop to a rumor. I am not trying to buy the Clippers, they already have an owner.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 29, 2014
That would seem to put the issue to bed. At the same time, the phrasing is interesting. Yes, the Clippers have an owner, but would Magic be interested in buying them if, say, an NBA ruling removed the man currently in charge?
There's a bit of semantic wiggle room there, and we shouldn't put it past Johnson to be cagey in his statements.
---End of update---
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Johnson and his loaded buddies, the Guggenheim Partnership, might want to plunk down some cash for the Clippers: "Magic's absolutely interested," one source closely connected to Johnson's business interests said.
If that's true, there would be a couple of ways to look at the situation.
On the one hand, purchasing the Clippers would be little more than an opportunistic move by a smart business man with a legacy of shrewd decisions. The Clippers are a distressed asset, and Johnson could rejuvenate them in a hurry, turning a massive profit in the process.
On the other, this would be a full-on rescue job.
The Clips are in dire straights right now because absolutely nothing about their future is certain. Sterling's alleged comments have turned the franchise upside down, subjecting it to potentially unprecedented steps from the league and putting its existence as we know it in real jeopardy.
The looming judgment from Adam Silver and the rest of the NBA owners is just one of many unpredictable factors in this complicated equation. There's also the potential for a larger, more defiant stand from the players on the roster. Who knows what they'll do to voice their opinions against Sterling when they return home for Game 5?
Doc Rivers: "We’re going home now. Usually that would mean we're going to our safe haven. And I don’t even know if that’s true."— J.A. Adande (@jadande) April 27, 2014
And what about Doc Rivers? The man largely credited with turning the Clips into a respectable organization and a championship contender doesn't even know if he wants to return next season, per ESPN's Marc Stein:
The full quote from Doc Rivers earlier this afternoon when asked about next season: "Don't know yet. And I'm just gong to leave it at that"— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) April 28, 2014
What about potential free agents immediately crossing the Clippers off their list?
What about the current players on the roster possibly being granted free agency by the league as a way to force Sterling into selling?
What if fans refuse to show up? What if they stop buying merchandise?
You name the far-fetched possibility, and it's very much in play as long as Sterling is in charge.
Johnson could stabilize everything.
A trusted figure in Los Angeles—and more than that, beloved—Johnson has a recent history of successful franchise resurrection. He and his partners swooped in to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers from embattled owner Frank McCourt, immediately transforming that franchise into a money-generating juggernaut.
Johnson stands as a symbol of everything Sterling isn't. He's capable, a man fully prepared to spend what it takes, and one who understands the value of doing things the right way. Granted, Johnson is as much a symbol as anything; he owns just 4.5 percent of the Dodgers and would likely occupy that same figurehead role if he purchased the Clippers.
But that's what the Clips need: a guy who can stand out in front of the organization and make fans, players and coaches proud to be part of it. Johnson is classy, a perfect replacement for the classless Sterling.
There's no pride in being a Clipper right now, nor has there ever been, really. Magic could change all that.
If all this sounds too good to be true, there might be a reason for that.
ESPN's Ramona Shelburne refuted Wojnarowski's report with sources of her own:
Sorry to ruin a beautiful idea, but source close to Magic says "zero, zero, zero conversations" about buying the Clips.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) April 28, 2014
Magic has said publicly he'd want to buy an NBA or NFL team, but Clippers aren't for sale and it's very hard for NBA to force a sale— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) April 28, 2014
And we probably can't go any further without mentioning how downright strange it would be to see Johnson, as much a part of Los Angeles Lakers history as anyone on the planet, suddenly becoming the most important figure for the Clippers.
That's just weird.
Besides, we can't yet be sure if Sterling will sell the team, despite Wojnarowski's argument:
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.
If the money keeps rolling in, it's safe to assume Sterling will get over being hated. After all, he's been widely reviled throughout his tenure as Clippers owner, and his supposed comments about African-Americans don't make it seem like he'll miss hanging out in the locker room.
Then again, even if the NBA can't force him to sell, it could rapidly become clear that the Clippers might not be worth as much to Sterling going forward.
If we're in for a mass talent exodus of coaches and players, perhaps accelerated by the league allowing currently contracted players to walk away from the organization, the Clips' revenue streams could dry up in a hurry.
If fans and sponsors stay away, owning the Clippers could become a losing business venture for Sterling. In short, lots of forces could combine to effectively force him into selling—even if the NBA can't make him give up control outright.
If the league puts the squeeze on, we might yet see Johnson swoop in, depose a cartoon villain and save the day.
And wouldn't it be perfectly poetic to watch as a man Sterling (allegedly) specifically requested not be brought to Clippers games sits smiling in his very own courtside seat, soaking in the love from an adoring arena full of fans positively elated to see him there?
Maybe Magic could send Sterling an Instagram capturing the scene. You know, so the former owner could see the story of the Clippers had a happy ending after all.