One of America's most prominent businessmen, known for quelling fierce corporate infighting, was named Friday by the NBA as interim chief executive of the Los Angeles Clippers in a move to restore credibility and stability to the team after owner Donald Sterling was banned for life from the league.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the appointment of Richard Parsons, former chairman of Time Warner and Citigroup, would bring "extraordinary leadership" to the Clippers organization as it faces the defection of advertisers and the threatened flight of fans, players and coaches.
Parsons, 66, is a native New Yorker and former college basketball player who has a reputation as a diplomatic negotiator and effective crisis manager, with deep political and corporate ties.
One of the most powerful black executives in corporate America, he helped guide Citigroup as the banking giant clawed its way out of the Great Recession and into recovery. He once was considered a possible Republican candidate for mayor of New York.
Parsons takes the place of Andy Roeser, the team president who defended Sterling immediately after the website TMZ broadcast a recording of the owner saying he did not want to see a companion bringing black people to Clipper games. In addition to the ban, Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million and said he would urge owners to force a sale of the franchise.
Roeser, put on indefinite leave this week by the NBA, has worked for Sterling for 30 years.
Parsons said Friday in an interview with The Times that he sees his new job as serving as a "conservator" of the team and its assets while the NBA pushes for a new owner.
"Seems like a great pick," said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has supported an ownership change. "I want the players and Coach [Doc] Rivers to get the support they deserve and need."
Long-term control of the Clippers remains murky because of the uncertainty around the owners' eventual vote, the likelihood that Sterling will go to court to attempt to block his ouster and the insistence of his wife, Shelly, that she should be allowed to continue as half-owner of the team.
Parsons declined to weigh in on the Clippers' ownership confusion. "That is really between the Sterlings and the NBA," he said. "If [the team] runs properly, we keep the momentum, we build the value, while that question of ownership is being [contested] in another arena, an arena in which I'm not standing."
Parsons said he did not know how long he would be with the Clippers. He planned to come to Los Angeles next week and said he hoped his presence would placate fans, advertisers and Clippers employees who have been asking: "Who's in charge here? Where is this thing going?"
"We're going to ... settle things down and get things stable," Parsons said.
Business associates said Parsons is well-versed in the sort of contentious organizational infighting that he can expect to face when he travels west.
He succeeded Gerald Levin as chief executive of Time Warner after the media giant's disastrous 2001 merger with America Online. His firm hand was seen as key to reviving the stature of Time Warner and creating a more disciplined company.
Serving first as president, then chief executive in 2002 and chairman a year later, Parsons reduced the rivalries between the AOL and Time Warner camps. He got credit for stabilizing the company, but not its stock value, which continued to languish under his leadership.
"He's an amazing people person, smart as a whip and has the ability to calm situations that are really intense, like this one," said Ed Adler, a former Time Warner executive. "He's really good in situations where emotions boil over, and believe me, at Time Warner over a decade, there were quite a few of them."
Jonathan Nelson, chief executive of Providence Equity, where Parsons now works as a senior advisor, said Parsons is perfect for the job.
"He's one of the most reliable people I know. His advice and help is highly valued," Nelson said. "I haven't met anyone who doesn't like him and doesn't respect him."
Parsons was born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens and graduated from high school when he was 16. He was an undergraduate at the University of Hawaii. Although he wanted to become a fighter pilot, his wife, Laura Ann Bush, encouraged him to pursue a law degree, so he enrolled at Albany Law School in New York. He helped pay his tuition by working part time as a janitor and later as an aide in the state Assembly.
Parsons has served as counsel to Nelson Rockefeller and as a senior White House aide under President Gerald Ford. He also was chairman and chief executive of Dime Bancorp and served on the board of Citigroup from 1996 to 2012, the last three years as chairman.
More recently, he has served on a panel of economic advisors who counseled President Obama. He currently serves on the board of the Estee Lauder Cos. and the Madison Square Garden Co. He is stepping down from the latter post. He is part owner of Cecil, an Afro-Asian-American brasserie in Harlem.
In the statement announcing his new position, Parsons called himself a lifelong NBA fan and said he "sympathized deeply" with Clippers supporters.
"The Clippers are a resilient organization with a brilliant coach and equally talented and dedicated athletes and staff who have demonstrated great strength of character during a time of adversity," Parsons added. He said he hoped to "help them open a new, inspiring era for their team."
Times staff writers Tina Susman and Joe Flint contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times