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LA billionaire covets sports teams to promote health

By Ronald Grover

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Bio-tech entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong, the richest man in Los Angeles, intends to make a bid for sports and real estate firm Anschutz Entertainment Group and wants to bring a National Football League team back to the second most populous U.S. city.

The 60-year-old sports fan, a surgeon who started and sold two pharmaceutical companies for a combined $8.6 billion, told Reuters in an interview this week that he wants to use Anschutz concert tours and sports events, and his NFL team's players, to encourage L.A. school children to adopt healthier lifestyles.

"The NFL can do so much for this city," said Soon-Shiong in an interview at his west Los Angeles office. "Kids really rally around sports and entertainment and it could be a major catalyst to demonstrate what you can do in life by living better."

Soon-Shiong grew up in South Africa, where he became a doctor in his early 20s and treated tuberculosis victims. After moving to the United States and becoming a surgeon at UCLA, he developed innovative methods to treat diabetes and cancer patients.

The sale of his two companies for $8.6 billion made him the wealthiest person in Los Angeles, according to Forbes magazine, although he still is not a household name in the city.

Under his plan, players would serve as mentors, encouraging students to eat better and exercise more. The most sophisticated methods used to deal with sports injuries could be shared with local doctors.

"It's important to motivate students in middle and high school. That's when you can help reduce diabetes and obesity that cause illness," he said. "Maybe we can turn that illness to wellness."

If he's successful in L.A., Soon-Shiong said he intends to make it a national program.

FORMING INVESTMENT TEAM

Sources say the billionaire is assembling a group of other Los Angeles business and civic leaders to buy AEG. Soon-Shiong did not discuss details of his bid.

Sources also said his buyer group includes private equity firm Guggenheim Partners, which this spring led a group that bought the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team for $2 billion.

AEG, which is owned by Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz, said on September 19 it had hired Blackstone Advisory Partners to sell the company. It is expected to fetch $6 billion to $8 billion, according to investment bankers with knowledge of its assets.

Separately, Los Angeles for years has wanted to bring back a professional football team, and Soon-Shiong acknowledged that he has met with the NFL to lay out his plan to buy a team.

AEG owns the Los Angeles Kings pro hockey franchise, the L.A. Galaxy soccer club and a 20 percent stake in the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. It owns or operates sports and entertainment arenas worldwide, including the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and promotes concerts and other live action events.

Soon-Shiong's family foundation has committed $1 billion to transform healthcare and intends to create a national health superhighway by which doctors can share biotech information and other data to improve diagnosis and care.

His foundation gave $135 million to the Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica and $100 million to reopen Martin Luther King Hospital, which serves lower income patients in south Los Angeles.

A basketball fan who played in pickup games until tearing his Achilles tendon three years ago, Soon-Shiong owns a 5 percent stake in the Lakers, and he said he has become friends with superstar Kobe Bryant and other players, whom he sees as role models for young fans.

In March, he and his actress wife, Michelle Chan, endowed the Chan Soon-Shiong Center for Sports Science at Saint John's, which will focus on sports medicine, physical therapy and stem cell research to help heal injuries.

It works with sports medicine doctors, including the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic that treats the Kings, Lakers and L.A. Dodgers.

Saint John's announced the sports science center at a dinner honoring AEG president Tim Leiweke in March, six months before Soon-Shiong showed his interest in the conglomerate.

(Editing by Peter Henderson and Jim Loney)

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