Former Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling’s racism was a thing of infamy around the league. There were public parts to it, such as the $2.75 million payment to settle a federal housing discrimination lawsuit in 2009, a suit that said he discriminated against black tenants trying to rent in his buildings. Sterling was bringing his privileged friends into the Clippers’ locker room after games while players were changing, at times telling his guests, “look at their beautiful black bodies.” Baron Davis told stories of Sterling disrespectfully cussing out players after a loss. Blake Griffin had his own stories about just being shown off.
As an owner, Sterling was cheap and arbitrary. In the final years of his ownership, some around him pushed and prodded Sterling to allow the organization to grow up — Mike Dunleavy Sr. deserves credit for this — and a big step in that direction was hiring Doc Rivers as coach and GM (even if Doc was not cut out to be the head of player personnel and on the bench). Rivers has said before people would be blown away by the trades Sterling nixed.
Monday, on #NBATOGETHER with TNT’s Ernie Johnson, Rivers told the story of Sterling almost killing the signing of J.J. Redick, but from Doc’s point of view.
— NBA (@NBA) May 18, 2020
“I think he was going to sign with Minnesota, I literally talk J.J. out of it, ‘Come play with me. Come play with the Clippers with Chris Paul and DJ and Blake [Griffin], you’d be a great fit.’… The free agent signing is done, J.J. agrees, I jump on a plane, I fly back to Orlando, and I get a call from Andy Roeser, and he says, ‘the deal’s off.’ I say, ‘what do you mean the deal’s off?’
“‘Donald doesn’t like white players.'”
“I said, ‘excuse me?’ ‘Donald Sterling said no.’ I said, ‘well, we’ve already agreed.’ I’m in the garage at the Orlando Airport, Ernie, I get a call from Coach K, who is upset because of J.J. I get a call from J.J.’s agent, I think it was Arn Tellem [Ed. note: It was] who screaming at me.
“So I call Donald Sterling, and I think this was three weeks to a month into the job, I’m not sure but right in that area, me and Donald are having a ‘conversation.’ It made [a screaming, cussing argument with Doc’s then coach Pat Riley years before] look meek. So, by the very end of the conversation, I quit. I said, “Well, I quit’ [Immitating a screaming Sterling] ‘You’re not gonna quit.’ ‘I quit.’ ‘You’re not gonna quit.’…
“I said, ‘I’m not gonna let you ruin my reputation. Not gonna happen. It will never happen.’ And Donald goes in, ‘Oh, just trust me, I have this great reputation around the league.’ And I was screaming, ‘No, I have the reputation around the league, you don’t. I will not coach another day if this deal doesn’t go through.’ I hang up, and I remember going home and telling Chris [Paul], ‘I think I don’t have a job.’…
“Three hours later I get a call from Andy Roeser who says, ‘Hey man, deal’s done, Donald’s all in.’ Didn’t say why, didn’t say anything, just he changed his mind.
“I knew that minute we were in trouble.”
Deal was done on Tues in LA. Flew to Austin. Got a call from Doc at 6 pm July 4. “You better play for me mother f$cker”. Had no idea what he was talking about. Tried calling my agents. They didn’t answer calls for 48 hours. Finally Arn called Saturday PM to tell me what happened https://t.co/LRqHS4gtjz
— JJ Redick (@jj_redick) May 19, 2020
That trouble would land later that season, when the V. Stiviano tapes of Sterling saying more racist stuff went public, and at that point there was no way the league was putting it in the bottle. Soon Adam Silver was banning Sterling for life and orchestrating a sale of the Clippers to Steve Ballmer.
Rivers told Johnson he thought his Clippers’ team that season had a legitimate shot at a title, but the disruption around the released tape blew that up, and also became about something bigger. It’s all detailed in a new 12-part documentary called “Blackballed” now available on Quibi. That release has brought up some old Sterling stories again.
They all leave you shaking your head in disgust.