In the aftermath of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racially derogatory comments that got him banned from the NBA, a familiar call came from 30 miles south to bring the team to Orange County.
“The change of venue for the Clippers would mean turning the page and having a fresh start in a place where millions of fans adore them and also respect them,” said Karina Onofre, a candidate for state office. Onofre, who is running for California’s 74th state Assembly District, added that bringing an NBA team to the county would create jobs and new business opportunities.
"I think now is the perfect time for the Clippers to relocate -- it'll allow them to turn the page on the recent negative comments and start fresh," she said.
Onofre’s comments have grabbed the first-time candidate some attention as a Democrat running for a traditionally Republican seat. But she’s not alone in the relocation debate that has kicked up in the days after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life, fined him $2.5 million and ordered him to sell the team.
Sterling was recorded complaining to his girlfriend that she was posting photos of herself with black people, including NBA great Magic Johnson, and asking her not to come to Clippers games with African-Americans. He has said he will fight Silver’s ruling.
Onofre wants to form a commission on the issue and says the Clippers should relocate to Anaheim’s Honda Center, currently home to the NHL’s Ducks. In the mid-1990s, the Clippers played some games in Anaheim and the team almost moved permanently to the city-owned arena. But Sterling, who bought the team in 1981, rejected a 12-year package worth $95 million in incentives and negotiations with the arena’s management deteriorated.
But Orange County hasn’t given up. As recently as 2011 Anaheim appeared close to a deal that would have made it the new home of the Sacramento Kings. The then-owners, the Maloof family, even copyrighted the names “Anaheim Royals” and “Los Angeles Royals” in anticipation of the move. But the deal fell through and the Kings remained in the state capital under new ownership.
Orange County Register columnist Jonathan Lansner recently noted the county’s wealthy fan base is not to be ignored. Orange County is home to 3 million people – one of the most populous counties in the state – and has an average household income of $82,000. Its business base, Lansner adds, “created a gross county output of $197 billion in 2012 – roughly equal to the production of the nation of Algeria or the state of Alabama.”
What kind of push the city itself will make when the time comes is unclear. Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday and he has so far declined to say whether the city will pursue the team. He did tell the Register last week that he has always believed that Anaheim made sense as a home for the Clippers.
“They have a great, huge fan base, and we have one of the best arenas in the nation for them to play in, so it seems like a natural fit,” he said. “We made our arena NBA-ready when we were trying to get the Kings, so we’re just waiting for a team to come.”