Column: Just what Clippers don’t need — Shelly Sterling as owner
Clippers co-owner Shelly Sterling intends to keep control of the team in her family, despite the NBA’s move to oust her estranged husband, Donald Sterling.
The biggest threat to the Clippers franchise wasn’t sitting courtside, a place where she had the nerve to plant herself in Oakland one day after her estranged husband and co-owner’s words tore apart their team.
The biggest danger to the Clippers wasn’t in a luxury box, where she unabashedly showed up at Staples Center recently surrounded by bodyguards even though it was clear she was not welcome.
On a sweepin’ Oklahoma Wednesday night where outside winds temporarily dimmed the lights and inside desperation made the Thunder roar, it was really nice that the Clippers’ personal dark cloud was not present.
But, as a Times report indicated earlier Wednesday, the respite will be brief. Shelly Sterling, estranged wife of banned owner Donald Sterling and legal co-owner of the team, is not going away. And the team’s future is about to get a lot stormier.
Shortly before they lost to Oklahoma City, 112-101, to tie this second-round playoff series at one game apiece, the embattled Clippers teetered closer to the edge of chaos with the news that all this ugliness is about to get uglier.
Shelly Sterling told The Times she believes she is legally entitled to own the team despite the league’s effort to strip it from her husband, and indicated she would fight to keep it, and can you imagine?
Just when a fragile Clippers team was beginning to trust that the reign of a racist was over, they learn that they could still be playing for his longtime partner who has also been alleged to be his co-conspirator?
“We almost made it out of Oklahoma City,” said Clippers Coach Doc Rivers when asked about Shelly Sterling’s comments, shaking his head at this turmoil that will seemingly not dissipate. “I don’t know, I’m not prepared to make a comment on it, I would like to wait.”
The NBA can’t afford to wait. Remember, the league had to act quickly to remove Donald Sterling before the Clippers and the other NBA playoff teams staged a boycott. An audiotape containing his racist comments was released on a Friday night, and Sterling was gone by Tuesday morning.
The NBA has to respond quickly again. How can it have a co-owner who has been involved in racist allegations now claiming she’s in charge of a team whose other co-owner has just been banned for racist comments?
Adam Silver, the new NBA commissioner, was a hero when he kicked out Donald Sterling in front of national television cameras. But in a Chesapeake Energy Arena hallway Tuesday night, when asked about Shelly Sterling, he refused to comment.
Shelly Sterling is that toxic. She is that dangerous. She is more than just preening blond and leather. She is, by all appearances, cold and calculating. One minute she is claiming her estranged husband is not a racist. The next minute she is condemning his “small-mindedness” and “racist comments.”
One minute she tells The Times, “The focus remains on our team winning an NBA championship.” Yet for the previous 10 days she has distracted the team from that focus by showing up at games even though the league has asked her to stay away.
She is Cruella de Sterling, and her presence strikes the Clippers’ players at the center of their collective conscience.
Just when they’ve proudly stood firm against ever playing again for Donald Sterling, now they have to worry about playing for someone whose actions have been allegedly just as despicable?
At this point, they have resigned themselves to allowing the NBA to handle all matters Sterling, and will probably take no action on the latest news. But what are they and their inner circles going to be thinking about it? And how is that going to affect how they play?
How can they stomach the idea of playing for a woman who is featured on a video that shows her posing as a health inspector entering the Sterling-owned apartments of minority renters? The video was part of a lawsuit in which the plaintiffs testified that her intention was to, “harass and intimidate African American and Latino tenants.”
How can they stand the notion of working for someone who was featured in depositions in which it is alleged that she claimed Latinos were “filthy,” and that she once called a tenant a “who do you think you are, you black [bleep]” after he attempted to reduce his rent.
One deposition even claimed that she told a tenant she agreed with her husband’s opinion of African Americans, saying, “See, Sterling is right, they do smell.”
Donald Sterling reached a $2.8-million settlement with the U.S. Justice Department in 2009 on these allegations that he discriminated against building tenants based on their race, but never admitted any wrongdoing.
To the Clippers, Shelly Sterling’s very presence will be all wrong, and what will happen when they start seriously pondering a future with this ugliness? This could not only distract them the rest of the season — remember, they’ve already protested once by turning their shooting shirts inside out — but could tear apart the Clippers in the future.
Nobody is going to want to play for her, yet the team’s stars are all stuck in long-term contracts. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are both in the first of five-year deals they cannot terminate until the fourth year. J.J. Redick is in the first of a four-year deal. DeAndre Jordan is in the third of a four-year deal. Then there is Rivers, who basically just arrived and is coaching in the first of a three-year contract.
If Shelly Sterling is the boss this summer, and if the NBA doesn’t have an obvious plan to eject her, it would not be surprising if some of the Clippers — including and especially Rivers — petition the league to be free of their deals and play elsewhere.
When asked about the news of Shelly Sterling’s fighting to keep the team Wednesday night, Paul said, “That’s the first I ever heard of it. I’ll worry about that later.”
But rest assured, he will worry. They’ll all worry. If Shelly Sterling is allowed to continue association with this team, everyone who cares about the future of not only the Clippers but the entire NBA should worry.
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