By: Tarrian Rodgers
In the present world of fear, unemployment, mounting bills, and bankruptcy, I would argue money can buy you a lot of things. The one thing money can’t buy is humility and respect for another person. This sums up the three decade reign of former Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The story of Sterling’s fall has been highly publicized. Sterling was ousted and currently serves a lifelong ban from the NBA. An audiotape revealed a racist tirade telling his then mistress that he didn’t want her bringing “blacks” into his arena.
During Sterling’s long and tumultuous career, he faced two different racial discrimination lawsuits simultaneously. The worst kept secret in sports was Sterling’s feelings for people of color. In 2009, Sterling paid a $2.725 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by the Justice Department accusing him of systematically driving African Americans, Latinos and families with children out of apartment buildings he owned. His bigoted mindset, paired with his cheapness, makes Sterling the epitome of a horrible franchise owner. Before Sterling was fired from the league, he was the longest tenured owner in the NBA. Sterling first purchased the team in 1981.
Former Clippers G.M. Elgin Baylor equated Sterling’s organization to “a southern plantation-type structure.” Baylor would later sue his former boss. In Baylor’s lawsuit he revealed Sterling’s visions on how to run a team. According to Baylor, Sterling wanted a front-office that consisted of highly educated white males. He wanted an attractive woman in the front office. Thinking her looks would drive ticket sales. All the while the front office staff would make more money than the executive of color. The purpose of the African American general manager is that he could identify talent. Sterling didn’t want an “ordinary” black player he wanted a player that was physically appealing to the eye. And once his roster was full of those sorts of players, he wanted a white coach to put them in places of discipline. Many of Sterling’s former African American players have spoken of Sterling’s ownership. Danny Manning’s agent recanted a story that Manning should accept a lowball contract offer because Sterling said that is the most a person of color has ever gotten.
As an owner he has only four playoff appearances in twenty-eight years. He was named the worst owner in sports by the writers at ESPN.com and in 2000 Sports Illustrated named the Clippers “the worst franchise in professional sports.” The Clippers achieved the worst winning percentage in all four major American sports leagues. The horror stories of Sterling don’t end there. The NBA in 1982 fined Sterling $10,000, the largest sum ever levied against an owner at the time, after he commented that he would accept the Clippers finishing in last place in order to draft an impact player like Ralph Sampson.
In the 80’s, to save money, he fired his training staff and told his coach Paul Silas to learn how to wrap injured players. In 2004, Kim Hughes, then an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers, was found to have prostate cancer on the eve of training camp. When Hughes contacted the Clippers about his health insurance coverage, he was told the surgery was not covered. Sterling told Hughes “If they made an exception for him, they would have to do it for everyone.” The cost would be $70,000. Hughes went ahead and had the surgery anyway. Unknown to him, four players. Chris Kaman, Corey Maggette, Elton Brand and Marko Jaric chipped in to cover Hughes’s cost for the operation.
Ultimately, the 2014 decision of serving Sterling a lifetime ban and forcing him to sell the Clippers was undoubtedly the easiest and best NBA commissioner Adam Silver has ever had to make. As a bona fide racist and tightwad, Sterling easily contends as the worst owner of the 21rst century.