Lawsuit is window into Elgin Baylor, Clippers and Donald Sterling
Documents filed last week in Elgin Baylor’s wrongful termination lawsuit against the Clippers, their owner, Donald T. Sterling, and the NBA offered an extensive look at Baylor’s 22-year tenure with the organization.
Baylor filed his civil suit in February 2009 in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging race and age discrimination. A trial date is scheduled for March.
On Nov. 5, Sterling’s attorneys asked the court for a summary judgment to dismiss the case; a ruling is expected in January.
Robert H. Platt, general counsel for the Clippers, declined to comment, citing a motion pending before the court. Baylor’s lawyer Carl Douglas said he felt confident he could demonstrate to the court that significant “issues of fact remain to be decided by the jury.”
Several hundred pages of legal documents filed by both sides in the case offer insights into Baylor’s final years as the Clippers’ general manager. They include:
•Before Baylor filed suit, his attorneys asked for $11 million in past economic losses, $11 million in future economic losses, $21,000 for stress and emotional therapy and attorney fees of $68,000. They sent the request to Platt and NBA Commissioner David Stern in a letter dated Sept. 16, 2008.
•Baylor also asked for a two-year, $2-million contract to serve as an NBA goodwill ambassador. He also asked the Clippers and the NBA for a “fitting (well-budgeted) retirement party for Baylor (not to exceed $300,000).”
•Clippers President Andy Roeser met with Baylor on Aug. 18, 2008, and offered him a retirement package paying $120,000 for the next year, and an additional monthly sum after that. Baylor rejected the deal and said in his deposition it was “insulting” and “ridiculous.”
•Baylor’s GM salary with the Clippers was never higher than $350,000. When he was hired in 1986 his pay was $64,800. Baylor did not have an agent negotiate for him with Sterling. Baylor said, “Donald does not like to talk to agents.”
•In his deposition, Baylor spoke about what he called Sterling’s “plantation mentality,” alleging the owner in the late 1990s rejected a coaching candidate, Jim Brewer, because of race. Baylor quoted Sterling as saying: “Personally, I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players.” Baylor said he was shocked. “And he [Sterling] looked at me and said, ‘Do you think that’s a racist statement?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. That’s plantation mentality.’ ”
•Baylor spoke about contentious contract negotiations at Sterling’s home with Clippers draft pick Danny Manning, the No. 1 overall choice in 1988. Baylor said in his deposition: “Donald T. said, ‘Well that’s a lot of money for a poor black ...’ — I think he said kid. … Danny was upset. So Danny just stormed out.”
The Clippers eventually signed Manning to a five-year deal worth $10.5 million.
In lengthy questioning during his deposition, Baylor said he could not recall Sterling making racist comments toward him. Baylor did complain that Sterling and Roeser often asked him how old he was.
•Baylor-succession plans: Roeser, in a 2005 memo to Sterling, prepared a critical historical analysis of Baylor’s tenure and expressed a growing frustration that Baylor would not be “vacating his position willingly.” Roeser suggested grooming TV commentator Michael Smith as an eventual successor, starting by hiring him as assistant GM. Roeser said he met with Baylor about the plan; Baylor said he did not recall any such proposal.
•In a 2006 memo to Sterling, Roeser revisited the Baylor-succession plan, writing: “Although this is not an urgent matter today, ultimately we will still have to tackle the same transition issue we discussed last summer (Elgin is 72 and still not getting any younger).”