Farewell, Donald Sterling, the worst owner in US sports | Hunter Felt

Monday’s ruling effectively ends Sterling’s tenure as owner of the Clippers – and means the NBA can breathe a huge sigh of relief

The NBA has probably not heard the last from Donald Sterling. He has, after all, threatened to sue the league until the day he dies, but his reign as the worst owner in US sports may have finally, mercifully, ended. On Monday in LA, Judge Michael Levanas determined that his estranged wife Shelly acted properly in replacing him as the trustee of the Sterling Family Trust. The ruling effectively ended any realistic chance he had of halting the $2bn sale, approved by Shelly, of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Sterling bought what was then the San Diego Clippers in 1981, only to move them to Los Angeles in 1984 – a move which alienated an entire city and earned him a $25m fine from the NBA (which Sterling was able to reduce to $6m after taking the league to court). If this is the end, it’s absolutely fitting that Sterling’s tenure as the LA Clippers owner will begin and end with him suing the NBA.

Sterling’s reputation would only get worse after the team’s abrupt relocation. Still, despite his long history of racial discrimination, sexual harassment and unfair business practices, the NBA, under former commissioner David Stern, mostly tolerated him. At times, treating him as if he were just an eccentric billionaire and not the morally bankrupt slumlord he actually was.

So it was maybe a matter of bad timing on Sterling’s part that Stern, his biggest enabler, stepped down before TMZ released audio tapes of Sterling using ugly language about African Americans, most notably Magic Johnson. While the tapes themselves might not have even cracked the Top 40 worst things Sterling has been involved with, it was the first time the general public had heard for themselves just what Sterling was like.

Faced with a massive PR disaster, including the very real threat of a player boycott during the NBA playoffs, Stern’s successor, Adam Silver, responded in a way that his old boss never did. On April 29, only four days after the TMZ bombshell, Silver called a press conference to announce that Sterling would be banned from the league for life, be hit with a $2.5m fine – the highest the NBA would allow – and, most shocking of all, that the league would start the process to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.

While all of this was playing out in the media, Shelly Sterling was noticing that her 80-year-old husband was acting increasingly erratic – and not just in private. Sterling’s public position on selling the Clippers began to change daily. After conferring with doctors that Sterling was possibly showing early signs of Alzheimer’s, Shelly took control over the family trust, claiming he was no longer fit to run the team.

This meant that with Shelly’s blessing, the NBA could bypass the contentious process of forcing Donald to sell, and could proceed right to the bidding war. On May 30, a month after Silver’s press conference bombshell, the NBA tentatively approved the sale of the Clippers to Ballmer – at $2bn the most expensive sale in NBA history.

The last major hurdle? Donald Sterling, acting more out of pride and ego at this point, had finally made up his mind. In a last-ditch attempt to stop the sale of the Clippers, he took his wife to court, claiming that she had acted improperly in making herself the trustee. Never in the course of history has anyone spent this much effort to purposely cost themselves $2bn. was As SB Nation’s Tom Ziller pointed out:

So basically, in the end, Donald Sterling is choosing to sue himself on principle. Good show, buddy.

Unfortunately for Sterling, it looks like he will have to accept the massive amounts of profit he’ll make when the Clippers sale goes final as a consolation prize. It’s a true American tragedy.

Monday was a better day for the Clippers, their fans, and the NBA in general. Only a few days before the verdict, there was talk that the team’s head coach Doc Rivers, its franchise point guard Chris Paul and others would stage a boycott if Sterling were still the owner at the start of the 2014-15 season. Since the threat of a player boycott was one of the main reasons Silver came down so hard, that would have been an embarrassment for the entire league.

Instead, the Los Angeles Clippers can now be an actual basketball team, without the baggage of their soon-to-be-former owner. While the story still might take time to play out, there’s no question that Sterling’s reign is dead. All that remains now is to bury it.


Hunter Felt

The GuardianTramp

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