Holding Court - Sterling family should cut clean
There’s no question that the brouhaha triggered by the racist remarks the NBA confirmed to have been made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has caused no small amount of confusion in the Clippers organization. Despite the quick, decisive action by four-month NBA commissioner Adam Silver banning Sterling for life and fining him the maximum allowable amount of $2.5 million, there remains a level of discomfort even among front-office executives led by coach Doc Rivers, who doubles as executive vice president for basketball operations.
This is because while the Sterling patriarch was unequivocally booted out and is in the process of being forced to sell the franchise by the league’s board of governors, his estranged wife Shelley has made it clear she wants to keep her 50 percent interest in the team, which is owned by a family trust.
Rivers himself admitted “it would be a very hard situation” if indeed Shelley refuses to sell her ownership stake in the Clippers, as her lawyer Pierce O’Donnell has declared.
“I think it would be very difficult,” said Rivers, who was gracious enough to let Mrs. Sterling attend the Clippers’ 113-103 Game 5 home victory in the Golden State series, but is apparently not convinced her continued presence would serve the organization well. “I guarantee you every person wouldn’t be on board with it. Whether I would or not, I’m not going to say, I just know that would be a very difficult situation for everybody.”
Rivers said the difficulty stems from Shelley’s relationship with her disgraced husband, who was caught on tape admonishing his girlfriend V. Stiviano not to publicize her relationship with blacks nor bring black people to his team’s games. This is just the latest in a long line of racial transgressions by Sterling that was acted upon only now when Silver has become commissioner.
Rivers correctly points out Sterling’s wife may not make things easy for the organization if she stays as part-owner “because we wouldn’t know who was really in charge.” This is despite how Mrs. Sterling has tried to toe the line of the league in its decision to ban her husband and force him to sell the team. “They may share the same last name,” O’Donnell said. “But they don’t share the same values on race.”
It may be worth noting, however, that Mrs. Sterling herself was named as a defendant in previous housing discrimination lawsuits against her husband’s companies that were later settled, which doesn’t necessarily mean an admission of guilt, according to O’Donnell.
Still, insiders with knowledge of the league’s legal strategy are saying that the NBA also intends to disqualify Mrs. Sterling from owning the Clippers despite not having been part of the ban imposed on her husband. This is because while she may be entitled to a 50 percent interest in the franchise, she has never been approved by the board of governors as the controlling owner like her husband previously was. She and team president Andy Roeser, who was forced to go on an indefinite leave last week owing to statements purportedly supportive of Sterling, were only alternate governors.
Mrs. Sterling would have to be approved by the board of governors to become the team’s new controlling owner. This is, however, highly unlikely given her association with her husband of 58 years. She separated from him only a few years ago, and this must be on account of his constant philandering that has seen him cavorting with numerous younger women like Stiviano. But Mrs. Sterling hasn’t dared file for divorce apparently for economic considerations, which may be what Rivers had in mind when he implied there’s no telling if her husband could get back right into it, even under the shadows, if his wife retains ownership of part of the team.
O’Donnell, however, has warned that if the NBA does not allow his client to keep her interest in the team despite her having tried to bend over backwards, the courts will be the ultimate recourse. The lawyer has maintained that Mrs. Sterling doesn’t want to be the team’s controlling owner and would welcome “a new, dynamic management team and investors to come in.” This makes a compromise settlement possible, according to some observers.
“Court cases can be protracted. We saw what (Frank and Jamie) McCourt did with the (Los Angeles) Dodgers. We don’t want to reprise the McCourt spectacle,” O’Donnell himself pointed out, referring to the six-month legal battle in 2011 between the baseball team’s former owner with Major League Baseball. “This is a great franchise. Shelley’s been a co-owner in the darkest days. And now, ‘Go Clippers!’ maybe we can bring an NBA championship to this city this year. But if she has to fight, she’ll fight. We respect property rights in America. We have due process. And she will fight to retain her interests.”
But at what cost? Mrs. Sterling has been reputed as a great fan of her team, but if she sincerely wants to put the best interests of the Clippers at the top of her priority list, she has to recognize the ensuing incongruity and awkwardness her continued ownership of half of the franchise is going to cause the team and the organization. One doesn’t even have to invoke any possible conspiracy between her and her estranged husband if ever she stays as owner. The fact that she’s part of the Sterling family, a status she chose out of her own free will, has to make her assume part of the responsibility for her husband’s wayward ways, including his racial transgressions.
Who is to say she is not going to kowtow to her husband once he decides to bring his influence to bear on the family estate, of which he is part and parcel an owner himself? Unless there’s an explicit and specific separation of rights and property between Sterling and the family estate (a possibility that’s not clear at this point), then his hand in the franchise will continue to be a very real possibility if part of the franchise continues to be owned by the Sterling family.
For Shelly Sterling, therefore, the best way to protect the Clippers’ interest is to cut the family’s ties with the team completely. Cut and cut clean, as the cliché goes. It will be a supreme act of statesmanship on her part if she comes to recognize the complications of her insistence to retain part of her team ownership, and takes the most noble of all actions, which is to sell. That way, she’d be also cutting off her husband from the team completely, which is the league’s primary goal in the first place.
The Sterlings won’t be left holding an empty bag anyway. When Donald Sterling bought the Clippers in 1981, making him the longest-standing NBA owner with Lakers owner Jerry Buss’ death in February 2013, he did it for just $12.5 million. Forbes Magazine now values the Clips at $575 million, a figure that’s even considered too low by financial writer Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEightSports, whose valuation under a formula he uses puts the Clippers’ worth within the $580 million and $950 million range. Fact is, some have even valued the Clippers by as much as a cool billion dollars, and there won’t be any dearth of takers.
In the end, therefore, it’s just about prestige and status when one talks about selling the Clips and abdicating their ownership, as what the league is trying to force upon Donald Sterling, and, by extension, his family that includes his estranged wife. For all intents and purposes, the Sterling patriarch is history as far as having anything to do with the Clippers is concerned. If he decides to fight it out, the NBA is prepared to use as legal basis the various contracts he has signed with the league through the years to rebut him. Under specific provisions of these contracts, Sterling agreed as team owner that “he will not take any position or action that will materially and adversely affect a team or the league” itself. Also included in these contracts are moral clauses, which state that owners “will be held to the highest standards of ethical and moral behavior.”
If and when Sterling decides to take the league to court, the NBA will invoke Sterling’s violation of the stipulations under those contracts. The league needs a ¾ vote of the league’s 29 other owners, or roughly 22, to approve a move to force Sterling to sell, a number that appears to be well within easy reach.
Dick Parsons, the former chairman of CitiGroup and Time Warner Cable who was appointed by Silver as interim CEO of the Clippers on May 9, said he is prepared to “work cooperatively, collaboratively and collegially” with all the team’s stakeholders who haven’t been banned, including reaching out to Shelley Sterling. That, at this point, might have to change with the league’s apparent though implied intent to force out Mrs. Sterling as well.
Spurs looking good
The San Antonio Spurs are making their second-round series against Portland look like a mismatch, scoring a third straight blowout victory when the series shifted to Portland 118-103. And the player making all the difference is Tony Parker, who had another sterling performance with 29 points on 12-of-20 floor shooting and six assists.
The Trail Blazers have not had anyone able to contain the 6-foot-2 Parker in the series thus far. He has dominated their first-round sensation Damian Lillard by scoring 27 points against him on 59 percent floor shooting in the first three games, and has likewise done well against the bigger Wesley Matthews with 25 points and a 45 percent clip and the rest of the Blazers with 26 points and a 53 percent rate.
“He’s been the engine for us,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who had prepared Parker for the grueling playoff games by resting him extensively in the last month of the regular season. “He started out really well tonight. He made shots, he involved everybody else. He was playing great D at the other end. He’s really playing a whole complete game.”
“Pop, you have to give him credit. He looked at the big picture, and rested me (the last month),” Parker said. “When we started the playoffs, he told me ‘Be ready to play 37-38 minutes a game, we’re going to need you to play at your best.’ And so far it’s working.”
It’s worked very well thus far, with the Spurs’ bench, taking advantage of the absence of leading Blazers reserve Mo Williams who was out with a groin injury, outscoring its counterpart in this one 40-6. Tim Duncan, who has been a pillar of strength for the Spurs, again had a solid game with 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists. The ageless frontliner passed the player whom he has surpassed in the eyes of many as the greatest power forward in history, Karl Malone, for fifth place in career playoff scoring in this game with 4,763 points. Duncan now trails only Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in this department.
Parker nailed back-to-back three-pointers to give the Spurs a 58-35 lead late in the first half, and the game was over even if the Blazers rallied to cut a 20-point halftime deficit to as low as eight in the third quarter. It was the third straight lopsided loss for Portland, which advanced to the second round for the first time since 1999 after beating Houston in the first round in six games. The Blazers also lost 116-92 and 114-97 in the first two games in San Antonio, and only led a total of 16 seconds there while allowing the Spurs to be on top for 90 minutes and 22 seconds.
This matchup may be over unlike we expected as early as the next game, unless Portland comes up with a formula to neutralize San Antonio’s pick-and-roll featuring Parker, or shoots better against the Spurs’ stifling defense, which held it down to 42.9 percent shooting from the floor.It is the only possible sweep that can take place in the second round as Brooklyn bounced back at home to hand two-time defending champion Miami its first lost in the postseason 104-90. The Nets did it with some brilliant shooting from beyond the arc, making an otherworldly 15-of-25 from that distance to cut their series deficit to 2-1.
Indiana and Oklahoma City, meanwhile, restored order in their respective series by regaining the homecourt advantage with Game 3 victories on the road. The Pacers massacred the pesky Washington Wizards 85-63 while the Thunder outlasted the LA Clippers 118-112 to take a 2-1 lead in their matchups. – Rappler.com
Bert A. Ramirez has been a freelance sportswriter/columnist since the '80s, writing mostly about the NBA and once serving as consultant and editor for Tower Sports Magazine, the longest-running locally published NBA magazine, from 1999 to 2008. He has also written columns and articles for such publications as Malaya, Sports Digest, Winners Sports Weekly, Pro Guide, Sports Weekly, Sports Flash, Sports World, Basketball Weekly and the FIBA's International Basketball, and currently writes a fortnightly column for QC Life and a weekly blog for BostonSports Desk. A former corporate manager, Bert has breathed, drunk and slept sports most of his life.