Doc Rivers is not a stupid man. He knew the history and reputation of Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling, everyone around the league does. But Rivers took Sterling’s $7 million because he thought the focus was on a good team on the court that he could help make great.
Same is true of Chris Paul, who knew full well he was re-singing a max contract with, but Paul knew that with Blake Griffin and some other pieces they could be title contender. Like Rivers, he thought he could have a positive influence on the organization.
So it goes with basically everyone you talk to in the Clippers organization — they thought the bad-old days of this organization were behind them.
It’s not that Sterling had become warm hearted and generous like the Grinch at the end of the book (it was a book before a movie), it’s that he had stepped back his role in the organization. He was still courtside every game and he still have his friends at the game like he was hosting a party. However, Sterling had stepped back some and allowed good, smart people to run the Clippers and do so professionally. Sterling also started to write bigger checks to keep some of his key players (this was a guy that in the 1980s was infamous for not paying for replacement players to come in when others were injured). You see that reflected with the players that want to come there and the talent on the court now. You could see that reflected in how they have done business on a number of fronts.
Sterling’s flaws were buried in an avalanche of wins and dunk highlights.
But Donald Sterling was always lurking as a potential embarrassment.
TMZ released an audio recording attributed to Sterling arguing with his then girlfriend because she posted a picture of herself with Magic Johnson on Instagram. As most of us would the first time we met Magic. But on the tape Sterling (if that is him) is clearly embarrassed that his girlfriend would post pictures with a black man, and he said to be sure she didn’t bring him to any Clipper games.
Sterling, for the record, denies that is him on the tape or says it may have been altered. The NBA is investigating.
Nobody around the league, nobody within the Clippers would really be surprised if the NBA investigation turns up that is him. No one should be surprised he said these things. There’s a long history.
But good, smart people with the Clippers wanted to believe that this kind of bombshell had largely been defused. They wanted to believe that the on-the-court Clippers — Chris Paul’s mastery, Blake Griffin’s athleticism, Jamal Crawford’s swagger — was the biggest story about this team.
However, that bombshell was still sitting there, and now it has gone off.
Leaving Clippers players and employees in an ugly situation they thought was behind them.