05.22.09

Donald Sterling: Not Much Better at Being a Human Than He is at Owning the Clips

Posted in Basketball, Greedy Motherfuckers at 6:47 pm by

Readers with strong Google skills and stronger judgment issues could probably find the manifesto-style piece I wrote about the Los Angeles Clippers for my college paper. I’m not going to link to it here, but I know it’s out there, and I know a fairly passionate case is made for this guy as someone who can help the Clippers, and that the semiotic significance of the team using Anthony Avent a lot gets addressed with all the hungover seriousness I brought to fucking everything when I was 21. It’s a masterwork. So masterful a masterwork, in fact, that…yeah, not linking to it.

Anyway, the Clips neither warranted nor received much respect at my Los Angeles-area school, where the locals grew up cheering for the Lakers — who actually, you know, won games and had decent players — and everyone else who cared couldn’t fathom cheering for a Clippers team that lost, often and generally in the most unappealing of ways. These were the worst old days: a sad-looking Lamar Odom dishing to a pale, jittery Pete Chilcutt while Eric Piatkowski and Darrick Martin stood around the 3-point line clapping their hands and demanding the ball. On the bench, Michael Olowokandi solemnly consumed plates of wings. Keith Closs blew his salary getting profane tattoos in places easily visible to kids, and later was videotaped getting beaten up by a group of people outside a club. Avent and Tyrone Nesby and earnest discussions on the Clips message board I frequented about how the team needed to give free-agent-to-be Maurice Taylor a max deal to prove that they were serious. Of course I cheered for these guys.

Besides final and undeniable proof of my sports-fan masochism, though, the most notable wisdom I gained from my Clips experience, was that the true villain of the endless, slow-motion tragicomedy that is this franchise is one Donald Sterling, the fantastically feckless mogul/goof who is generally regarded as the worst owner in American professional sports. In the most recent ESPN the Magazine, Peter Keating gives The Donald the full exposé treatment, complete with examples of Sterling’s casual racism, grope-and-grunt way with the ladies, ultra-craven business practices and general oleaginous creepery. It’s hard to know where to excerpt. It’s a long piece, but eminently worth reading and not exactly lacking in rubbernecky highlights or cameos from the D-grade celebs Sterling hangs out with (Pia Zadora’s car makes an appearance and Penitentiary star Leon Isaac Kennedy has a nice speaking part). Let’s go with this, though:

At his best, Sterling can make you believe anything is possible. He has an infectious grin, boyish enthusiasm and a propensity for hugs and shoulder rubs. His willingness to say everything with conviction can seem downright Clintonian, but it also registers as optimistic. “I thought there was no way the Clippers were going to match the contract I signed with the Heat in 2003. I was in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Miami when Donald Sterling called,” says Elton Brand. “He said, ‘I love you, I love Elton Brand.’ I was surprised but honored. He honestly feels what he feels at that time.”

But Sterling also uses his wealth and power like many other rich and powerful men: to impose his eccentricities on others. When dining out, Sterling has on occasion recommended meals for his guests without ordering anything for himself, forcing them to then share with him. He once invited a draft pick to his Beverly Hills mansion, then conducted the meeting wearing only a bathrobe. He also regularly makes large contributions to charities — like the Special Olympics — and then when the groups honor him, he takes out self-congratulatory newspaper ads. “Sterling desperately wants people to believe he’s a good person, and if they don’t, it drives him crazy,” says a lawyer who knows him. “But he also just can’t get out of his own way…”

The people who work for Sterling and live in his buildings who say they bear the worst of his unconventional behavior. For years he has run semianonymous ads (crude design jobs he reportedly mocks up himself) seeking “hostesses” for Clippers events and his private parties. In a Times ad last summer, Sterling’s company solicited “attractive females” to bring a résumé and photo to his address, where employees reviewed their looks. Some of the women who have gone through this process found it humiliating. “Working for Donald Sterling was the most demoralizing, dehumanizing experience of my life,” says a hostess from the 1990s who says she helped set up “cattle calls” to find other women to work the job. “He asked me for seminude photos and made it clear he wanted more.”

2 Responses to “Donald Sterling: Not Much Better at Being a Human Than He is at Owning the Clips”

  1. hot shit college student says:

    http://vault.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1018960/1/index.htm

    Apparently the founder of Penthouse was in the room for the bathrobe meeting? Google won’t confirm, but the SI piece from 2000 is notable as a puff reflection of Keating’s. I didn’t know Sterling was a scumbag.

  2. David Roth says:

    Yeah, that issue of SI was what my college-paper article was responding to. (I wasn’t rebutting the “worst organization in sports” thing — I was making, uh, a more nuanced point?) (I don’t think I was making a point) I only dimly remembered the Sterling piece from that issue, but it fits with the way I’d always seen him described — as a prototype LA clown, and harmless in the way that the city’s feckless, self-sentimentalizing millionaires kind of generally seem. That is, harmless if you’re not a young, attractive woman, in which case watch out because that guy is drunk and he’s going to spill mojito on you while trying to look down your dress.

    But while I was a little surprised at the depth and breadth of all this — of course he’s a dirtbag with women, and of course there’s a little slumlord in all real estate magnates, but the whole thing really is staggering in scope — this was coming out in dribs and drabs over the last year or so. Sterling was a lot better off when he just seemed like a clownish loser. The team he owns sure is doing its part to help him keep that rep.

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