By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The Los Angeles Clippers could face an exodus of players, sponsors, fans and their coach if embattled owner Donald Sterling is still associated with the team, Richard Parsons, the franchise’s interim chief executive, said on Tuesday at a trial over the NBA team’s $2 billion sale.
Parsons, the former Time Warner CEO who was installed by the NBA to run the Clippers in May, testified that the team would likely lose profitability and its overall value if sponsors, one of its top revenue streams, leave because of Sterling.
“We have a bunch of sponsors who are sitting at the edge of the pool and they don’t want to go into the water,” Parsons told Los Angeles Superior Court a day after failed settlement talks between Sterling, 80, and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who won the bidding for the team.
The real estate billionaire has been banned for life by the NBA for taped racist remarks that were made public. He has vowed to block the NBA-record sale that his estranged wife brokered with Ballmer because of the way the league treated him, his lawyers said.
Also on Tuesday, Sterling filed a lawsuit against his wife Shelly Sterling, the NBA, its commissioner Adam Silver and the corporation that owns the Clippers, alleging that all the shares of the team belong to him after he revoked his family trust.
Parsons testified it was imperative that a new owner be in place before the start of the season in October or it could throw the team into a “death spiral.”
“If none of your sponsors want to sponsor, if the coach doesn’t want to coach and if the players don’t want to play for you, what do you got?” Parsons said.
Parsons testified that head coach Doc Rivers told him he did not believe he could coach the team if Sterling remained as owner.
Shelly Sterling, 79, has asked a probate court to confirm her as having sole authority to sell the Clippers after physicians said her husband has early Alzheimer’s disease and could not handle business affairs, which would hand her control of the team according to terms of the family trust.
Sterling contends he could get $2.5 billion to $5 billion for the Clippers because of booming sports media rights.
Parsons said he believed Ballmer paid above-market value for the Clippers, calling it a “knock-out price.”
“There is no way you can get to this price on any metric basis,” Parsons said. “It’s like buying a Faberge egg.”
The NBA has said it could confiscate the Clippers and put the franchise up for auction if the sale is not approved by Sept. 15.
Anwar Zakkour, an investment banker with Bank of America who helped facilitate the sale, testified that Ballmer’s $2 billion bid outpaced their most generous projections of $1.8 billion.
“None of us believed we would get $2 billion when we started,” Zakkour said, adding he valued the team between $1 billion and $1.3 billion.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Ken Wills)