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Clippers' Sterling has long history of trouble

Sterling Poses Tough Test For Silver


LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Donald Sterling has been known to heckle his own team from the center-court seat where he has sat for decades, whether with his now-estranged wife or women young enough to be his granddaughters.

Former Los Angeles Clippers say the owner would barge into the locker room to berate players, offer awkward praise or - according to testimony in a lawsuit filed by his fired general manager - tell guests to check out his players' "beautiful black bodies."

The NBA's longest-tenured owner is among the least successful in basketball history. He has watched the Clippers became a profitable punch line, compiling the worst record in North American pro sports during his first quarter-century in charge.

He has fired loyal coaches, waged court battles with long-serving executives and publicly seethed when players didn't want to stay with the team.

And that's only what Sterling does when the world can see him.

Opponents say the racially incendiary remarks attributed to Sterling and leaked to TMZ last weekend publicly show a side of the 80-year-old real-estate mogul that has been ignored and rationalized for years.

"It put a smile on my face that finally he would be unable to deny the racist allegations against him," said Carl Douglas, a lawyer who represented former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor in a lawsuit against Sterling.

"This is a guy who, as the owner, sits courtside at the half-court line," Douglas added. "No other owner sits like that. He has an ego the size of the Grand Canyon."

Sterling has faced extensive federal charges of civil rights violations and racial discrimination in business, making shocking race-related statements in sworn testimony before reaching multimillion-dollar settlements. He has also been sued for sexual harassment by former employees, and the court proceedings detailed an outlandish list of Sterling's personal proclivities.

Baylor, the former NBA great who served as the Clippers' GM for 22 years, left the franchise with rancor and an unsuccessful lawsuit alleging race and age discrimination. Baylor claimed Sterling has a "plantation mentality" about the Clippers, envisioning a team of "poor black boys from the South playing for a white coach."

"When I heard that voice (on the TMZ recordings), there was a visceral reaction," said Douglas, who deposed Sterling during Baylor's lawsuit. "I recognized the venom in that voice."

Sterling's new embarrassment might lead to his long-term banishment from the NBA. Several major Clippers sponsors dropped or re-evaluated their association with the team Monday, including State Farm, CarMax, Kia Motors America, Virgin America and Red Bull.

But amid the national outrage over the Clippers owner's apparent comments last weekend, former NBA star Kevin Johnson asked the question that must be addressed by Commissioner Adam Silver and the owners who control the league.

"We wanted (Silver) to give us a full accounting of the prior accusations of racism made against Mr. Sterling and why those were never sanctioned by the NBA," said Johnson, who was asked by Clippers guard Chris Paul to speak for the players' union membership. "It's our responsibility to find out the history of Mr. Sterling, and why sanctions did not occur."

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Sterling's history of discrimination charges and outlandish statements wasn't surprised by the latest revelations.

The son of a produce dealer, Sterling grew up in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. Donny Tokowitz eventually changed his last name, earned a law degree and began practicing in divorce and personal injury in 1961. He spent his earnings methodically buying up real estate all across Los Angeles, becoming famous for almost never selling any property.

With encouragement from Lakers owner Jerry Buss, Sterling paid just over $12 million in 1981 for the beleaguered San Diego Clippers, who had moved out from Buffalo three years earlier.

Sterling was eccentric from the start, plastering his face on billboards and publicly hoping for a last-place finish so he could draft Ralph Sampson. During the 1980s, players claimed they would receive their paychecks on Fridays after the banks closed, likely to prevent them from bouncing.

Sterling abruptly moved his franchise to Los Angeles in 1984, receiving a $25 million fine from the NBA before countersuing and getting the penalty sharply reduced. He put the team in the decrepit Los Angeles Sports Arena and turned a tidy profit thanks to a sweetheart lease deal.

Despite their location in a glamorous major media market, the Clippers were a destination of last resort for most free agents and an unfortunate detour in their players' careers. When Ron Harper compared his time with the Clippers to a jail sentence in 1994, Sterling suspended him for a game without pay.

Along the way, Sterling and his insurance company paid $2.75 million to settle a federal housing discrimination lawsuit after court proceedings packed with scandalous testimony about Sterling's opinions of minority tenants in his properties. More salacious tales came out of Baylor's wrongful termination lawsuit, which was ultimately unsuccessful.

Sterling's alleged recorded comments included a personal attack on Magic Johnson, which came as a shock to the Dodgers owner and retired Lakers superstar.

"I had a friendship with him, so for him to then make these alleged comments about myself ... there's no place in our society for it," Johnson said of ABC's pregame show Sunday.

After three decades of nearly unrelenting misery and controversy, the strangest thing happened a few years ago: The Clippers got good.

Led by Paul and high-flying forward Blake Griffin, Los Angeles has won two straight Pacific Division titles while winning 113 games over the last two regular seasons, easily the two best campaigns in franchise history.

Until now, most of the NBA's displeasure had been rooted in Sterling's performance as an owner, not any perceived racist beliefs or actions. When the Clippers became a contender - largely thanks to the acquisition of Paul in a trade overtly orchestrated by Stern - the league's concerns about Sterling's stewardship of the team started to subside.

A large segment of basketball-loving Los Angeles had always embraced the Clippers out of sheer contrarianism, not wanting to jump on the Lakers bandwagon. When the Clippers' fortunes changed, they became the fashionable favorite team for Hollywood's hipsters, transplants and basketball purists who wanted to be part of history on the ground floor - never mind the reputation of the owner.

And now that the Clippers are worth watching, Sterling might never be allowed to watch them from courtside again. Fan protests and boycotts are expected at Staples Center on Tuesday night when the Clippers resume their playoff series against the Golden State Warriors.

Douglas, who had Clippers season tickets for 10 years, has called for an extensive fan boycott. He hopes a public outcry will force the NBA's other 29 ownership groups to leverage Sterling out of the league.

"They have to be so embarrassed by the spectacle of his ownership that they band together and influence him into selling the team," Douglas said. "I am hopeful that some corporation will buy the team, probably at a premium, and once and for all rid Los Angeles of this man."


Join the discussion

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Brian Hope April 29 2014 at 3:36 AM

One can somewhat understand the contradiction between his charitable giving and his personal racism by remembering an old saying: "I love humanity; it's people I cannot stand."

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bh1929 April 29 2014 at 1:08 PM

The money grubbing girlfriend's gravy train just ended..........

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wtolsma April 29 2014 at 3:21 AM

So now I guess it is legal to tape record or even wire tap a private conversation of any person in the privacy of their own home and relese those conversations to the media. I would think if the league tried to take away Sterlings ownership he would fight it in court and most certainly would win the case based on the evidence was gathered illiegally and released to the media. I would not doubt if he is a racist he is going to press charges against the woman for invading his privacy rights and probably TMZ for releasing it without permission to the public.

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2 replies
meryleeweisman wtolsma April 29 2014 at 8:51 AM

Didn't work for Mitt and won't work for Sterling either. That's one of the problems the 1% refuses to accept, RESPONSIBILITY. With great privilege comes great responsibility, or "noblese oblige". When you become a public figure, due to exceptional wealth/power, public interest etc, you forfeit privacy. Royalty keeps its mouth shut regarding these things. Even real Hollywood "royalty" has learned to keep quiet, look at Mel Gibson, the best teacher they ever had! Discretion really IS the best part of valor, how true that is.

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lken06880 wtolsma April 29 2014 at 9:07 AM

Taping and wiretapping are not the same and are not used interchangeably.
In some states only one person needs to know about the recording for it to be legal.

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murphy911 April 29 2014 at 12:37 PM

Probably won't see ole Donnie boy sitting court side anytime soon.....

Flag Reply +1 rate up
mabrowndeb April 29 2014 at 2:44 AM

I must say that having mentored one of his players, I knew of some past racist allegations. Unfortunately, it causes a little concerned about the former NBA Commissioner, David Stern, who had to know and hear of complaints of some former NBA players and coaches. Especially, as it concerns me of how Chris Paul could be blocked to go to the Lakers, an action never before taken by the NBA, but allowed and pushed in the direction of the Clippers. Conspiracy or not, something is very fishy around the NBA.

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1 reply
michael mabrowndeb April 29 2014 at 6:33 AM

Out of all that's been written, you have painted the much Bigger picture!!!

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bh1929 April 29 2014 at 12:56 PM

His money grabbing girlfriend burned him real bad.

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tcraw2000 April 29 2014 at 11:13 AM

He's 80 years old and he's a product or by product of the 1950's. His attitude reflects old prejudices and he never grew out of them like most people from that era have.
Make him lose his team, make him lose money, but the country is still free enough that he can be a racist, nazi, or whatever he wishes!
By the way it's obvious in the recording that money grubbing little _________ was baiting the old fart!

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1 reply
debnaert tcraw2000 April 29 2014 at 11:42 AM

Really? Well let me tell you this being an old fart as you say............... WE NEVER HAD THE PROBLEMS YOU HAVE TODAY!

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2 replies
roy debnaert April 29 2014 at 11:57 AM

No, you had WORSE!!!!!!!

Flag +3 rate up
celienet debnaert April 29 2014 at 12:46 PM

When? Back when the 'darkies' knew their place?

Flag +1 rate up
tb9gmsl April 29 2014 at 10:45 AM

In between nearly every line of this story the name David Stern keeps popping up. Not in print, but it's there -- as The Man Who Looked The Other Way. The mighty czar. And now the chickens are coming home to roost.

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Kathy April 29 2014 at 9:12 AM

Wow! I didn't know there was a NBA team named The Clippers. STILL don't know what state they play in even though I just read two articles about some owner I can't name right now....
hmmmmmmmmmmmm. I wonder if any WOMEN are going to watch the next NBA playoff game, even though they have NEVER watched an NBA team play in their life?????
Money money money money money.................
How are all those African Americans going to decide their own fate?
What types of conversations are going on with the PARENTS of the players????
What kind of advice/support/ideas/values/ethics/greed/opinions etc etc etc is being given to these players......
I read it is like going back to the days of slavery. I agree 100%. I don't know a lot about those days...I am only 50, but I do know how MONEY can DESTROY a family.
Isn't an NBA organization just one BIG HAPPY FAMILY???!!!!
So.... For all those HUGE fans out there...........
Please answer these questions for me! Please answer them like you are talking to a person who just crawled out from under a HUGE rock and KNOWS absolutely NOTHING about the NBA:
1) How much does a person pay for an NBA team now a days?
2) How much does a black person make if they are on the team? How much does a white person make? There is still a difference between women and men in business that do the same work and make different pay. Is this true of black/white people in the NBA?
3) How much money will the black player lose if they sit on the bench and decide not to play?
for example.... they suit up to play, but they get "injured" while playing and have to sit out?
Sort of like the "blue flu" with police officers?
4) How much money does the general public pay to see this next play off game?
5) Does anyone get FREE tickets to the next game?
6) What percentage of players.... black and white have children? it is amazing how our actions, morals, ethics CHANGE once there is a 'little guy' that we created watching our every move?
Sometimes the human race feels more "responsible" for their actions once they are having their EVERY move watched by someone THEY CREATED from a speck of their "stuff"....
7) How much money will the networks lose if they decide to not show the game on that station and instead show a round table discussion with the black and white players talking about the last week.......?
8) How much money will this guy sell this team for if he sold it to MJ tomorrow morning?
9) How much money would he have gotten if these tapes never became public?
10) How much money does a 70 year old man have to pay a 22 year old woman to stay be his side while his wife watches from the side line?
11) Women are generally cunning, secretive, angry, smart, etc. etc. etc. when they feel they have been betrayed.... All you MEN out there.........REMEMBER THE MOVIE.....Fatal Attraction? For those of you who are old enough to have seen it in a theatre? Please answer my questions!!!!!!

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1 reply
rohlemeyer Kathy April 29 2014 at 9:57 AM

You're rambling.

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jimmybeachbum April 29 2014 at 3:48 PM

It's ok for the Rev. Al to be racist.. the "Most" Rev. Jesse Jackson to be racist.... Barack Obama's "Most" Rev. to be a SUPER RACIST but let a white basketball owner say something and the world lights up with the PC group... listen to a rap song and you'll hear ten times more racist statements than this guy uttered.. go figure....

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