After several months of controversy, the saga of Donald Sterling and the Los Angeles Clippers at least appears to be reaching some more tangible development, if not outright resolution. This week, Mr. Sterling and his estranged wife Shelly are in California probate court to determine which of the two has control over the Sterling Family Trust and, by extension, the Clippers. Mrs. Sterling, intent to sell the franchise for a record sum of $2 billion to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, gained control of the trust after two doctors deemed her husband mentally unable to uphold the duties. Donald and his lawyers fired back by claiming that those tests were administered improperly — you know, because he got drinks with the doctor after it happened, as people normally do — and now they're in court to sort it all out.
Donald Sterling failed to show up for his first day in court on Monday, which doesn't seem like the best way to win the public relations battle. But he was present on Tuesday. Unfortunately for him, he might have been better off sitting out another day, because he took the stand to make more of the bizarre comments that have typified this entire saga (and really the last few years of his public life). As reported on Twitter from various reporters on the scene, Sterling turned his testimony into some unholy mixture of a planned mockery and a genuinely sad attempt to reclaim whatever dignity he might be able to find.
First, Sterling arrived to the courtroom late, as tweeted by Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:
Donald Sterling in the house, shows up about 40 minutes after start of second day of trail..sunglasses, big smile, sits in front row— Bill Plaschke (@BillPlaschke) July 8, 2014
When Sterling took the stand, he began to act out at Shelly Sterling's lawyer Bert Fields. From Kim Baldonado of NBC4 in Los Angeles:
Donald Sterling getting upset saying "why is that so hard for you to understand" when explaining why he changed his mind on Clippers sale— Kim Baldonado (@KimNBCLA) July 8, 2014
In arguably the weirdest exchange of the day, he challenged Fields's manhood:
"For god's sake be a man, stand up and be a man! What do you want to accuse me of?" Donald Sterling to Shelly's attorney.— Kim Baldonado (@KimNBCLA) July 8, 2014
Sadly, this was not an isolated incident. Sterling appeared to bicker with Fields for much of his testimony:
Attorney "the reason you're fighting sale is to restore your dignity." D. Sterling "the reason you're handling the case is to charge fees"— Kim Baldonado (@KimNBCLA) July 8, 2014
Don Sterling, to Fields: "You're wrong. You've been wrong on every question today." Judge: "How can he be wrong if he's asking a question?"— Jack Wang (@thejackwang) July 8, 2014
Donald is going after the attorney. Judge acknowledges Sterling is a lawyer but asks him to just answer the question.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) July 8, 2014
Donald Sterling to Bert Fields, who is 85 years old: "I don't think you've been practicing very long."— Jack Wang (@thejackwang) July 8, 2014
However, Sterling didn't stop at the opposing lawyer. He also spoke out against the media coverage of this entire story, from his initial racist comments to this trial. And he wasn't afraid to name names:
Don: "Is that the New York Times? You want me to comment on the New York Times? ... I don't agree with anything the New York Times says."— Jack Wang (@thejackwang) July 8, 2014
"Where'd you get that? CNN? Do you rely on CNN for your information?" DTS, while I sit two seats away from @CNNLindyHall— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) July 8, 2014
DTS has said he doesn't get news from CNN or NBC news. We're still in this, Orange County Register!!— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) July 8, 2014
Oddly, it wasn't all so vicious. At one point, Donald said that his wife Shelly — his opponent in court — is the only one he trusts:
Donald Sterling just said the NBA is "not to be trusted. The only one I love and trust is my wife."— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) July 8, 2014
Naturally, he later insulted her ability to decide the fate of the Clippers:
Don Sterling: "My wife can't learn anything. She's beautiful and wonderful and intelligent, but she's never had the experience that I have."— Jack Wang (@thejackwang) July 8, 2014
Yet Sterling freely admitted to allowing his wife to control the sale:
Donald Sterling on document he signed authorizing Shelly to negotiate sale of Clippers "I trusted my wife. I love her."— Kim Baldonado (@KimNBCLA) July 8, 2014
While these fireworks grabbed most of the attention, Sterling's testimony did touch on the issues at hand, including the medical examinations that deemed him incompetent to control the Sterling Family Trust:
Donald Sterling, on Dr Platzer and Spar: "I didn't know these people were adversaries, guns who were going to testify against me."— Jack Wang (@thejackwang) July 8, 2014
Donald Sterling, on Dr. James Spar: "He snuck into my tiny little den and sat so close to me that I couldn't even breathe."— Jack Wang (@thejackwang) July 8, 2014
Don Sterling said Dr. Meril Platzer didn't finish her examination of him. Suggested they go to the Polo Lounge and get drinks first.— Jack Wang (@thejackwang) July 8, 2014
Platzer denied this statement on Monday, but it appears to be Sterling's case against the examination. Regardless, Sterling spoke on his lawsuit against the NBA, as well, claiming the he could win as much as $9 billion in damages:
Donald Sterling said he'll get 9 billion from NBA in anti-trust suit.— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) July 8, 2014
It bears mention that these are merely isolated quotes and do not sum up the entirety of Sterling's testimony. However, every reporter in attendance noted that his comments were scattered, moving from attacks against Fields and others to emotional statements about his love for his wife with few sensible transitions. Fields attempted to make his case after the end of the day's proceedings:
Outside the courtroom, Bert Fields on Don Sterling: "You guys can draw your own conclusions. Is this a guy you'd hire to sell hamburgers?"— Jack Wang (@thejackwang) July 9, 2014
Donald Sterling's lawyer Bobby Samino attempted to spin his client as putting on a show, which seems absurd on its face. However, there might be some truth to it, or at least some legitimacy to arguing that Sterling did not do anything out of his particular ordinary. As noted by Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, Sterling has been giving statements like these in depositions for a very long time. This is not a new level of questionable behavior so much as a continuation of something he had done even before this most recent controversy caused the NBA to ban him for life. If Sterling seems particularly troubled, then it's always because he's receiving more attention than ever before.
That relative lack of change doesn't mean these ludicrous comments are perfectly fine, but it is important to remember that the thrust of his testimony (or lack thereof) does not preclude him from winning his case. Court decisions often depend on interpretations of technicalities, not the flow of public opinion. Sterling's behavior certainly isn't an asset to his case, but it also doesn't have to be a massive hindrance.
What it does make clear, though, is just why everyone around the NBA wants Sterling out of the picture as quickly as possible (and why many of us wanted it to happen years ago). No matter his legal standing, the man is an embarrassment to the league and anything positive associated with it. That verdict has more than enough evidence on its side.
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