Magic Johnson would probably be the favorite of fans to buy the Dodgers.… (Kathy Willens / Associated…)
There were so many names, most of them vaguely known in the sports pages, that it always seemed a near impossible task to handicap the litany of potential new owners of the Dodgers.
Only now the brackets have narrowed, now reportedly only four bidders remain standing. As we grow near a final April 1 decision on what probably will be the biggest sports story in Los Angeles this year, it’s odd how its daily news has drifted to the back of sports sections.
Beyond the sheer numbers of bidders, the other aspect that always made this process difficult to forecast is that ultimately the winner will be selected by Frank McCourt. And who among us can safely claim, or even want to claim, knowledge of the inner workings of McCourt’s mind?
Yet as the hour grows near, it has to be asked: Can McCourt turn down Magic Johnson?
Magic is only one of the most beloved figures in Los Angeles sports history. And with Peter O’Malley, Joe Torre, Fred Claire and that odd combo of Steve Garvey-Orel Hershiser now out of the bidding, there is no one left standing with ties to the Dodgers.
Magic is the only bidder with ties to Los Angeles sports, and almost the only one who lives in Los Angeles. I don’t think it’s exactly reaching to say Magic is the overwhelming favorite of those in L.A.
Now unless you are a huge NFL fan and believe Stan Kroenke’s winning would mean the return of the Rams, this would seem close to a slam dunk for McCourt. Magic’s group reportedly has the highest current bid at $1.6 billion. Magic, who’s more iconic in L.A. than the Hollywood sign.
You have to wonder if any of that is important to McCourt, who is held in the polar opposite of the local esteem of Magic. Ross Newhan, the Hall of Famer baseball writer, wonders on his blog if community pressure will compel McCourt to select Magic. Writes Newhan, quoting a member of another group who cannot be identified because he signed a confidentiality agreement:
"That is THE question. We are aware that McCourt has spoken to a lot of people in the community to try and get a gauge on what the reaction will be if he doesn't pick Magic -- you know, 'will (people) hate me that much more?' "
The four groups that remain alive will be approved by a vote of owners next week, so there’s no certainly all four will advance. A brief look at the four:
-- Steven Cohen, the wealthiest individual of the lot. Has hooked up with agent Arn Tellum, who seems a strange choice to lead a team. Cohen is an East Coast hedge-fund dude, whose company had been under SEC investigation for suspicious trades, has undergone his own contentious divorce and lives in Connecticut.
Outside of the money, there’s not much about him that’s attractive. He’s reportedly never set foot inside Dodger Stadium, and where have we heard that before?
-- Kroenke’s only real tie to Los Angeles is he owns a home in Malibu. He owns the Rams, just about every team in Denver not named the Rockies, most of the soccer team Arsenal and a regional sports network.
He is a serious candidate, but it’s all guesswork if he wins. What it would mean for the Rams, who have an out in their lease in 2014? What it would mean with his ongoing relationship with McCourt if he were unable to purchase the parking lots?
-- Michael Heisley and Tony Ressler. Heisley is the majority owner of the Memphis Grizzlies. He lives in Chicago and Jupiter Island, Fla. Ressler is an L.A. resident who is co-founder of an investment firm and minority owner in the Milwaukee Brewers.
These two were originally eliminated in the bidding by Blackstone Advisory Partners, which is brokering the sale for McCourt, but then joined forces and were brought back in. You’d feel better about them if they had found each other on their own.
-- Magic, who is wealthy in his own right but has partnered with Mark Walter of Guggeheim Partners, and has former Braves and Nationals President Stan Kasten on board to run the team. And Wednesday he added Peter Guber, the Hollywood executive and co-owner of the Golden State Warriors.
There isn’t much not to like about this group.
The one advantage Cohen supposedly has is $900 million in cash. And since McCourt has almost a billion in debt and needs to write his wife a check for $131 million by April 30, that is thought to be significant.
But this is all otherworldly, high-stakes poker. No one is likely to show their final hand until they absolutely have to. And others who have been hovering around this process and were reportedly ready to join a group – Patrick Soon-Shiong(who bought out Magic’s interest in the Lakers), Ron Burkle, every cable network – have yet to be heard from. It’s hardly unthinkable that Soon-Shiong could join Magic’s bid at the 11th hour.
Could McCourt really turn Magic down? It would almost be like turning Los Angeles down, which sadly, could almost answer the question.
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