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Could Clippers end up in Las Vegas?


On Tuesday, in a hotel ballroom in New York, the NBA banned Clippers owner and Instagram hater Donald Sterling for life, saying it would do everything in its power to force a sale of the team.

On Thursday, just off Rue de Monte Carlo and east of Frank Sinatra Drive in Las Vegas, partners AEG and MGM Resorts International will hold a ceremony to officially break ground on a 20,000-seat sports and entertainment arena.

Finally, there will be a shovel in the ground.

Hallelujah.

OK, so you probably have to be Edwin Moses in his prime to successfully scale the amount of hurdles it will take to connect the following dots about Tuesday’s news and an NBA team making its home in Las Vegas, but crazier things have happened.

Sterling, mind you, was in line to receive a second lifetime achievement award from the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP until, well, the organization realized what a detestable boob he has always been.

As sure as Sterling’s racist comments led to new NBA commissioner Adam Silver kicking him out of the NBA club forever and fining him what amounts to lunch money of $2.5 million, the MGM venue that will sit on 12 acres and open in 2016 will need to fill its suites and seats.

The plan always has been for it to open without an NBA or NHL team as an anchor tenant, and that would still hold true today.

But the controversy surrounding Sterling and the fact the NBA has the power and desire to make him sell the Clippers opens the door slightly for broader thoughts on the possibility of a team landing here sooner than later.

I have never completely bought the theory, never seriously believed the NBA viewed Las Vegas as the most attractive spot in which to set up either an expansion or relocation camp.

Hosting the summer league and a group of Olympians for a few weeks each year is hardly the same thing as banking on locals to financially support a major league sports franchise on a long-term basis.

There are other cities — Seattle and Kansas City, specifically — that would present as strong or even more compelling cases to land a team. The NBA, much like the NHL, is looking west for growth.

Las Vegas, then, seems a fashionable option to many. At this point, it’s at least in the conversation.

Now, we need to jump one or two or five hurdles.

Once the NBA obtains a three-fourths majority of its owners to terminate the franchise under Sterling’s leadership — don’t for a second believe Silver took these steps without being certain he had enough votes — the Clippers would be turned over to the league to control the sale of the team.

You figure Sterling and his army of attorneys would fight this. The racist won’t go away quietly.

He also will eventually lose.

The list of those reportedly interested in purchasing the Clippers with a price tag estimated at north of $1 billion already has begun to take shape, led by Hall of Famer Magic Johnson and his billionaire backers, the Guggenheim Partners.

Should he be the one to eventually sign checks for the likes of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, Magic’s plans would be for the Clippers to remain in Los Angeles and continue sharing the Staples Center with his former team, the Lakers. He is part owner of the Dodgers and has established himself over the years as King of LA in more ways than just building movie theaters and hamburger chains.

Owning the Clippers would add an impressive jewel to his crown.

The Clippers also signed a 10-year extension of their lease at Staples last year that ties them to the arena through at least the 2023-24 season.

But what if the person or group of people who ultimately purchase the team also seek a breath of fresh air from the Sterling nightmare? What if they view Las Vegas and its new arena as the ideal spot to escape the shadow of a down but historical giant that are the Lakers by beginning anew elsewhere?

AEG also operates Staples Center. Deals can be made between properties.

It’s the longest of long shots if you merely consider the difference in TV markets. It’s like asking Edwin Moses from 1976 to scale three hurdles at once.

I still believe the NHL will land in Las Vegas and the MGM arena before the NBA. But come Thursday, there will be a shovel in the ground, and that opens up all sorts of possibilities.

Heck, even Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Tuesday said he and his partners are interested in purchasing the Clippers. No one has a better relationship with the MGM than Mayweather. Just ask Bob Arum. Floyd would bring the Clippers to Las Vegas quicker than he would fight another setup opponent who doesn’t have a puncher’s chance of beating him.

(See Maidana, Marcus.)

There could be a few problems, though. Given how Mayweather obviously doesn’t take any risks and hasn’t left Las Vegas to fight since 2005, he would have a devil of a time convincing other NBA owners to allow his team 82 home games each year.

That, and the fact as an NBA owner, he couldn’t gamble anymore.

That last part would really stink, given how long we have held out waiting for Mayweather to begin tweeting all of his losing tickets.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.