Poor, poor pitiful Donald Sterling

Poor, poor pitiful Donald Sterling
Shelly Sterling, accompanied by her attorney Pierce O'Donnell, walks into a Los Angeles County Courthouse. She is asking a judge approve the removal of her husband Donald Sterling from the family trust that owns the Clippers to complete the $2-billion sale of the team to Steve Ballmer. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Oh dear. Someone help me.

I’m starting to feel a teensy glimmer of sympathy for struggling Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the blowhard “philanthropist” whose reprehensible conversations about race got him banned from the NBA for life last spring.

It's not that I think Sterling should be able to keep the team. He shouldn't.

Microsoft kajillionaire Steve Ballmer is standing by, with $2 billion in hand. And a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has already hinted that Sterling was appropriately removed from his family trust, paving the way for a sale despite his objections.

Nor do I think he deserves to retain his high-profile spot on the public stage. It's been a pleasure being able to open up my favorite newspaper and not be visually assaulted by those full-page ads proclaiming his righteous generosity.

It's just that the whole Sterling scandal has rested upon a series of intimate betrayals.

Sterling was first betrayed by his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, who recorded his rambling, racist observations,  which made their way into the public sphere after Shelly Sterling — preposterously -- sued Stiviano to get back millions of dollars in gifts that Donald had lavished on her.

Then he was betrayed by Shelly, his wife of nearly 60 years, who arranged for two neurologists to evaluate his mental capacity, unwittingly handing her the tools she is now using to remove him from the family trust that owns the Clippers.


He was betrayed once again by whoever leaked the angry phone messages he left for the two neurologists, accusing them of violating their ethics and his privacy when they turned over their mental health evaluations of him to his wife's attorneys.

I don't think anyone expected that Donald Sterling, with his decades-long history of litigious behavior, would go quietly.  He doesn't appear to have enough self-awareness to gracefully accept the inevitable. As my colleague James Rainey reported, Sterling is expected to testify today that he believes he was tricked into submitting to the two mental health evaluations his wife used to invoke their trust's "incapacity clause."

With this battle (which, let's not forget, began as a marriage tiff), the Sterlings have created a full-employment act for high-end Los Angeles lawyers (Bert Fields! Pierce O'Donnell!) and a pro-sports family spectacle the likes of which this town has not seen since the McCourt family seams split apart like an old baseball.

Donald Sterling has done too much harm to ever be considered a sympathetic figure. but just now, as his mental capacity is being debated before a probate judge, the whole spectacle feels a little icky.

So yes, I feel sorry for the self-pitying Sterling in the same way I feel sorry for one of the great self-pitying characters in all of literature, King Lear.

You know it's his third act, you know his kingdom is crumbling around his head. But you also know he has no one to blame but himself.