If the Clippers are being sold for $2 billion, the question being asked all across Los Angeles is:
What are the Lakers worth?!
The short answer: a lot more.
The issue seems moot to the Lakers in the real world, where the Buss family has no current intention of selling the team. However, in a unique way, the Clippers' new valuation might help ensure the Busses don't ever have to sell the Lakers.
Compared to Microsoft titans such as Steve Ballmer, in line to own the Clippers, and Paul Allen, who owns the Portland Trail Blazers, Jerry Buss' children are very much cash-poor. If for whatever reason Johnny, Jim, Jeanie, Janie, Joey and Jesse were in need or want of money beyond their family business income, the Lakers being valued now at maybe $3 billion or whatever number means all the more money available to the Busses in loans.
Forbes' most recent valuation of the Lakers was merely $1.35 billion—and the Clippers were at $575 million. So it's clear the real money is in an entire different arena.
|Most valuable franchises|
|Team||Current Value ($mil)|
|New York Knicks||1,400|
|Los Angeles Lakers||1,350|
|Golden State Warriors||750|
|San Antonio Spurs||660|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||590|
|Portland Trail Blazers||587|
|Los Angeles Clippers||575|
If it comes to fruition in the future that Jeanie and Jim don't want to run the franchise together anymore, the loan option could also be key in whatever reshuffling would ensue. Big-money backing would still be needed in that scenario, but less so if more loan financing is available.
Whereas the Clippers are being sold in their entirety, the Buss Family Trust owns 66 percent of the Lakers. That's because having majority ownership is all that matters to run the club, so Jerry Buss was fine not owning all of the team—and having more actual cash to live his life and pass down to his children.
Ballmer's net worth is estimated at $20 billion by Forbes. Also a different arena.
Buss used to say that he knew he could get more than anyone ever realized if he decided to sell, but he simply had no interest in selling. Nothing could be as enjoyable for his life as the Lakers.
In response to a column I wrote in January 2013 that revealed Jim and Jeanie weren't speaking to each other at the time and looked at potential pitfalls down the road post-inheritance, the Buss family issued the following statement: "We unanimously agree that we have no intention of ever selling the Lakers and intend to keep ownership of the team in our family for generations to come."
If the Buss family does decide to change the ownership structure, it is clear by the famous faces and billionaire bidders that there is no lack of folks eager to own part of an NBA team in Los Angeles—even if it is with Jeanie still running the club. Having the prestigious Lakers, especially for Magic Johnson, remains the preferred option—and now it is the only option with Ballmer lined up to take the Clippers.
It is clear for now that Jeanie is working within the current format with Jim in charge of basketball operations and wanting it to work. The Lakers feel urgency to bounce back to a winning style as soon as possible for their own pride and standards, but the Clippers having a championship contender and a deep-pocketed owner does change the landscape for the two Staples Center rivals.
Jeanie, team president, decided after fiance Phil Jackson took the job as New York Knicks president to be more prominent as the leader of the Lakers. She is undoubtedly a likable, warm personality.
But Ballmer, standing 6'5" and bouncy with personality on full display in his Microsoft company videos, will bring a new, prominent face to the Clippers.
In recent years, many who have worked for or around the Clippers tried to set aside the truth that Donald Sterling was the team's owner and to operate as if he and his shoddy past didn't even exist.
As soon as NBA commissioner Adam Silver decreed that Sterling was banned, this was going to end well for Clippers fans, sooner or later. Sterling's planned $1 billion lawsuit against the NBA threatens to slow the momentum, but things are ultimately looking up for the Clippers.
One big reason Ballmer paid so much for them, though, is that the Clippers' local television rights are up for renewal in 2016 (the same year of Kobe Bryant's planned retirement from the Lakers). After losing both the Lakers and the Dodgers to new regional networks, Fox Sports desperately needs to keep the Clippers.
So in a way, the epic Time Warner Cable TV deal ($4 billion over 20 years, with the option to be $5 billion over 25 years) that Jerry Buss set up before his death is helping determine the price tag for the Clippers now—and for the Lakers if they are ever sold.
Remember that Sterling took some property off Buss' hands to give Buss the cash he needed in 1979 to purchase the Lakers—and Buss encouraged Sterling to buy the Clippers after that. As much as has changed since Buss and Sterling bought their NBA teams, the moves that one franchise makes continue to affect and sometimes benefit the other.
Kevin Ding covers the Lakers for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.