November 09, 2010
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling easily has the worst reputation of any owner in pro sports. But up until the last few years, that reputation was based only on his team's penny-pinching and hardly winning ways. Recently, though, it's taken a nastier turn.
Usually it's in your best interests to hold back on accusations in a he said/he said sort of court case, but when one of the "he's" in question essentially admits to race-based prejudices by settling out of court instead of fighting accusations that he denied to rent out his real estate to certain minorities, one of the "he's" is just going to have to deal with being assumed to be a miserable racist for the rest of his life.
Basketball Hall of Famer and former Clipper GM Elgin Baylor is in the process of suing Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for wrongful termination. In that, alone, he may have no case; mainly because Sterling employed Baylor through 22 years of some of the worst personnel decisions in NBA history.
But Baylor's in-court descriptions of the Clippers owner sound positively Sterling-esque. And because we like our heroes and villains in easy-to-digest broad asides, we're quickly falling on Baylor's side and quoting things like this:
In court papers, Baylor said that Jim Brewer, then an assistant with the Clippers, wanted the chance to interview for the head coaching job after Bill Fitch was dismissed following the 1997-98 season.
"I believe he [Sterling] was a little reluctant at first but I said, ‘We owe him that courtesy.' So we go there and we sit down and Brewer starts talking about his qualifications, that he believed he could do the job of being the head coach," Baylor said in court papers.
"And when he finished, Donald said something that was very shocking to me. He said, ‘Personally, I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players. And I was shocked. And he looked at me and said, ‘Do you think that's a racist statement?' I said, ‘Absolutely. That's plantation mentality."
It gets a little uglier after that.
The deposition also touches on the Danny Manning contract negotiations, which were mentioned in the initial court papers filed by Baylor's legal team in 2008.
Manning was the No. 1 draft pick overall in the 1988 draft. Baylor, in the deposition, incorrectly said it was the 1989 draft. Negotiations became contentious and Baylor spoke about a meeting at Sterling's house among Manning and his representatives and Clippers officials.
When Manning's agent told Sterling that the offer was unacceptable, Sterling responded by saying it was a lot of money.
Said Baylor, in the deposition: "Donald T. said, ‘Well that's a lot of money for a poor black ... ' -- I think he said kid. For a poor black kid I think. For a poor black something, kid or boy or something. Poor black. Poor black.
"Danny was upset. So Danny just stormed out. He just stormed out of the place. Where he went, I don't know. He never came back to the house."
The problem with this is that Danny Manning was hardly coming out of a bread line and into the NBA. His father, Ed Manning, played for nine years in the NBA and ABA, and while this wasn't exactly an introduction to untold riches back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ed Manning had stuck out a good career as a coach in the years that followed his time spent playing ball.
Baylor goes on to testify that he never heard Sterling utter a racist statement about him, personally, in his presence, and that he wasn't told he was making less as a GM because of his race. When it comes to money, Sterling hates everyone, because he pays (sometimes, if you sue him to get the money you're owed) his coaches, scouts, and (up until recently) his players far less than the usual going rate.
The whole legal back-and-forth has been expertly detailed by Lisa Dillman, who also provided a transcript documenting the alleged behind-the-scenes machinations by then-Clipper coach Mike Dunleavy and current Clipper GM Neil Olshey's shared agent, Warren LeGarie, bent on easing Baylor out of his job.
Sterling's lawyer has made no comment on the case.