Donald Sterling's argument for maintaining onwership of the Los Angeles Clippers looks increasingly questionable, if testimony from the court case to decide control of the Sterling Family Trust and the fate of the franchise are to be believed. Just one day after the trust's chief financial officer said that maintaining control of the team would require Sterling to sell roughly $500 million in assets to pay off defaulted loans, another key figure in the Clippers' future testified the basketball team's widely respected leader would not return if it meant coaching for a Sterling-owned franchise.
On Tuesday, current Clippers CEO Richard Parsons, appointed to the position by the NBA in May following the lifetime ban given to Sterling by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, testified in the California probate court case between Sterling and his wife Shelly, who are currently engaged in a fight to decide if the latter can sell the franchise to ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for a record figure. When asked about the future of the team in the event of Sterling's continued ownership, Parsons suggested there would be a mass exodus of talent and sponsors. From the Associated Press:
The interim CEO of the Los Angeles Clippers testified Tuesday that coach Doc Rivers told him he will quit if Donald Sterling remains the owner of the team. [...]
''Doc is troubled by this maybe moreso than anybody else,'' Parsons said on the witness stand about Rivers, who is black. ''If Mr. Sterling continues as owner, he does not want to continue as coach.''
Parsons said he fears there would also be an exodus of key players, including team captain Chris Paul, who also is black and heads the NBA players union. Parsons was about to give an account of his conversations with Paul but was stopped by an objection by an NBA lawyer who said it would be an invasion of privacy. The judge upheld the objection. [...]
''If Doc were to leave, that would be a disaster,'' Parsons said. ''Doc is the father figure, the one who leads. He's the coach. He's the grownup. He is able to connect with people and earn their trust. The team believes in him and loves him.
''If he were to leave, that is only going to accelerate the death spiral,'' Parsons said. [...]
''If your coach leaves, if your players don't want to play with you, what do you have?'' Parsons asked. ''If your sponsors leave and the fans leave, it's going to spiral down and down.''
He said key sponsors such as Mandalay Bay Resorts in Las Vegas are cold about whether they will continue, as are other companies including Kia Motors Corp.
Parsons, the former chairman and CEO of Time Warner and former chairman of Citigroup, is not an unbiased figure in this case. He was appointed by the NBA right after the league banished Sterling, at a time when Silver and his colleagues were set on removing the longtime Clippers owner from his position by any means available to them. His friendships and relationships in this issue are clear, and they're resolutely against Donald Sterling. He wants the guy out as much as anyone.
But bias and correctness are not mutually exclusive. Rivers did his best to keep the Clippers' minds on their playoff goals in the midst of this scandal, but he also spoke openly about being in the difficult position of playing for Sterling and said he was unsure he would return to play for a man with such openly racist views. The player boycott is also not a surprising suggestion, because Clippers opponents and NBPA vice president Roger Mason Jr. argued for the same course of action if Sterling were not removed. Meanwhile, the loss of sponsors is almost a given, because many high-profile organizations severed ties with the franchise after the Sterling scandal initially broke.
The current court case ostensibly relates to an argument between Donald and Shelly Sterling, but recent testimony has shown that Donald's continued ownership of the Clippers could devastate a franchise that has only recently cast off its longtime image as the worst organization in professional sports. On Monday, Sterling Family Trust CFO Darren Schield suggested that Sterling would probably need to sell the team anyway (or destabilize the Los Angeles real estate market) to pay off loans that would default following his revocation of the trust. Parsons' testimony on Tuesday follows that line of thinking but extends the influence to the franchise's employees on and off the court. In his view, several high-profile members of one of the league's few teams with hopes of title contention would rather quit than play for a rightfully disgraced owner.
Despite this torrent of criticism and bad press, Sterling has continued in his quest to present himself as the aggrieved party. In fact, Tuesday saw the filing of a third lawsuit to add to the ongoing family trust case and a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NBA for treating Sterling differently from other owners. James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times has the details:
Donald Sterling opened a third legal front in his battle with his wife and the NBA over control of the Clippers, charging his wife, the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver with defrauding him when they moved to sell the team to former Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer.
In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court Tuesday afternoon, Sterling asked for an injunction to freeze the $2 billion sale to Ballmer and for unspecified damages.
The action claims that Donald Sterling’s dismantling of the Sterling Family Trust on June 9 precluded his wife, Shelly Sterling, from taking any action to sell the team. Her moves to have him declared mentally incapacitated and to sell to Ballmer before that relied on fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract and inflicted emotional distress on the longtime Clippers owner, his lawsuit contends.
As usual, the notoriously litigious Sterling is exhausting every legal avenue at his disposable to maintain control of the franchise. While that resolution looks increasingly unlikely — although high-profile court decisions have proven confounding many times before — Sterling may at least hope that he can salvage some part of his public image.
Yet, as Parsons' testimony shows, Sterling's reputation is already a lost cause no matter how he does in these lawsuits. At this point, people just want him to go away, and the Clippers appear to need him to disappear for the health of the franchise.
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