Los Angeles Clippers will lose players, sponsors if Sterling stays: CEO

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 (above) the franchise's interim chief executive, said on Tuesday at a trial
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 (above) the franchise's interim chief executive, said on Tuesday at a trial over the NBA team's US$2 billion (S$2.5 billion) sale. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

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 US$2 billion (S$2.5 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 the Los Angeles Superior Court a day after failed settlement talks between Sterling and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who won the bidding for the team.

The 80-year-old 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.

Parsons said it was imperative that a new owner be in place before the start of the upcoming 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 told the court.

Parsons said head coach Doc Rivers told him he did not believe he could coach the team if Sterling remained as owner, which would also open the door for players, sponsors and ticket-buying fans to quit supporting the franchise.

Sterling's wife, Shelly Sterling, 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 cannot handle business affairs, triggering a provision in the family trust that would hand her control of the team.

Sterling, who vowed in court never to sell the team, contends that he could get US$2.5 billion to US$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 from the Sterlings and put the franchise up for auction if the deal is not approved by Sept 15.

Anwar Zakkour, an investment banker with Bank of America who helped facilitate the sale, testified that Ballmer's US$2 billion bid outpaced their most generous projections of US$1.8 billion.

"None of us believed we would get US$2 billion when we started," Zakkour said, adding he valued the team between US$1 billion and US$1.3 billion.