Friday, January 15, 2010

Does God Hate Clippers Owner Donald Sterling (& Does He Care)?

In the wake of the season-ending aggravation of Blake Griffin's knee injury, "The Curse of the Clippers" has returned to the news. (It may be noticed that in almost every article that moans about the injuries to Danny Manning and Griffin, it is noted that 1998 #1 pick Michael Olowokandi played in "only" 45 games in his first season, neglecting that that was the infamous 50-game "lockout" season. But I digress.)

Immediately after Griffin was drafted, Bill Simmons came up with a chronology of the Clippers' woes that presented compelling evidence that the team's futility even poisoned the career of their first celebrity fan, Billy Crystal. Seriously, go read it. You'll laugh.

Simmons wonders if the Clippers' 30-year malaise was the result of some besmirching of sacred Native American spirits or something. An interesting theory, and the avalanche of misfortunes, coincidences, and calamities make a reader feel like there's GOT to be SOMETHING going on.

Me, I'm not a religious fellow, but after this latest shot to the gut, even I get the feeling that (Insert Your All-Powerful Deity of Choice Here) is seriously trying to stick it in and break it off. Not on the franchise, per se, but merely on its owner, Donald T. Sterling.

The story goes that in 1979, Dr. Jerry Buss sold a handful of apartment buildings to Sterling and proceeded to use that money to cover his purchase of the Lakers. That transaction has continued to be rubbed in Sterling's face for 30 years.

The perpetual flaunting of Sterling's subsidizing of Buss's good fortune appears to have melted Sterling's brain over the decades, and he's taken his fury over ending up with Los Angeles's red-headed stepchild out on whole segments of society ever since.

Let's start from the beginning. In San Diego, Sterling tried to stimulate Clipper season ticket sales with billboards prominently featuring the team's heralded new acquisition: himself. By January 1982, he was getting fined by the NBA for thinking out loud about how nice it might be to tank some games to "earn" the Number 1 pick and the chance to draft Ralph Sampson.

He wasn't paying hotel bills. He wasn't making payments to players' or general managers' pension funds. He couldn't even pay for dinner some nights.

The man hired one of his girlfriends, Patricia Simmons, as an assistant general manager, booting coach Paul Silas out of his own office. Simmons is listed as a former model, but as it's pretty hard to find pictures of her online, she must not have been terribly successful. Click that link there and scroll to the bottom to see how much basketball knowledge Sterling had, let alone Simmons. (John Have-lie-sek, indeed.)

In recent years, he seems to have gotten more basketball savvy. T.J. Simers put an optimistic spin on things in November when he wrote this praise of Sterling in the LA Times:

He built a state-of-the-art practice facility, allowed Dunleavy to go free-agent shopping with an open checkbook, cut ties with Elgin Baylor after 23 mediocre years as general manager, and now has hung in there with the same coach for seven seasons.
Because in today's sports climate, not firing your coach every two years (and getting caught up in millions of dollars in deferred settlements) is cause for Nobel Peace Prize nominations. And while Simers may have been happy about Elgin getting canned as general manager, Elgin himself certainly was not, filing an age and racial discrimination suit against Sterling. (Me, I'd have fired Elgin for selecting Danny Ferry over Glen Rice, but I'm a Big Ten homer, so I might be biased.) Baylor claimed that Sterling's ideal vision for his basketball team mirrored a Southern plantation, with a bunch of "poor black boys from the South" playing for a white head coach.

Dunleavy getting an open checkbook is certainly a turnabout from the days when players like Lamar Odom and Andre Miller were allowed to bolt in free agency rather than getting anything resembling a decent offer. Even guys who got decent offers (see Elton Brand's matched $82M offer sheet from Miami in 2004) weren't exactly thrilled to be staying. Brand proved it five years later by completely welching on his deal with Baron Davis to team up in LA and sprinting as far across the country as he could get. Not sure how the Sixers are feeling about that deal right now, either.

Sterling's tried to manicure his image, spending the years between 2006 and 2008 declaring the impending construction of a homeless shelter/hospital/school/legal advocacy center in a Skid Row neighborhood of Los Angeles. We're well past that time period now, and you would be correct if you assumed that the arrival (nay, even the groundbreaking) of said building is still "impending."

The homeless-center boondoggle would seem much more genuine if there wasn't such a tremendous initiative on Sterling's part to keep the homeless population expanding. He's been nailed with housing discrimination suits not once, but twice.

In 2003, his practices of ignoring maintenance complaints, harassing tenants with surprise inspections, and refusing rent checks to hit tenants with non-payment charges earned him a lawsuit that was settled in 2005. Almost $5M in legal fees alone were awarded to the plaintiffs.

A 2006 lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice alleged that Sterling refused to rent to African-Americans (because "they smell"), Mexicans ("they just smoke, drink, or hang around the house"), or anyone with children, giving preferential treatment to Koreans instead. That one was settled this past November for around $2.73M.

And just this week, TMZ has reported that a negligence lawsuit has been filed by a group of tenants in a West Hollywood building owned by Sterling...and one of those tenants may be recognizeable as Ginger the secretary from "The West Wing."

Apparently, through all this, Don hasn't lost his touch with the ladies. In 1996, he was sued for sexual harassment by a woman who claimed that she needed to carry a gun afterwards for fear of retribution from Sterling.

Seven years later, Sterling got to be the plaintiff for once, suing an employee whom he would regularly pay for sex in an effort to reclaim a $1M Beverly Hills property that she believed to be a gift. He appeared to take a lot of delight in recounting the details of their sexual encounters in a deposition obtained by The Smoking Gun. Click that link if you like, but if anyone walks up and reads over your shoulder, be prepared for a "Why the hell are you reading porno fanfic?" line of questioning.

Through all of Sterling's misanthropic fuckery, Herr David Stern (ten times the Nazi commissioner that Roger Goodell will ever be, for all the good and bad points that his hard line merits) has remained absolutely mum. He's found time to mandate a business-casual dress code for the players. He assesses fines on Mark Cuban because he posts tweets posing valid questions about game officials. But flaunting sexual exploits and flooding elderly black women into an early grave so he can get them out of his apartment buildings? Fair play, apparently.

Stern's got no compulsion about demanding his players toe a disciplinary line, but why not the owners? Because they paid to play with these expensive toys, and as long as they keep contributing to the NBA kitty, the rest is their business?

Will it become more of an issue when lines of protesters picket the Staples Center and prevent Ice Cube, Spielberg, Jack, and Dyan (little ditty...ahem, sorry) from getting in to see a Lakers-Clippers beatdown?

Will it become an issue when players decide they're not willing to relive the slave days and quit rather than go play on the "plantation"?

Or will (Your Almighty Deity of Choice) continue popping ACL's and breaking kneecaps in the hopes that Sterling will eventually pop an embolism and go rent an apartment off the most unforgiving landlord of all? (Hint: he doesn't fix the air conditioning...EVER.)

1 comment:

  1. Donald Sterling is the worst owner in professional sports, and until the Clippers are sold to someone with an interest in something other than the bottom line..they will continue to struggle. To heckle your own players is pretty class-less, and should be done behind closed doors.