The NBA in 2014: Donald Sterling exits, Steve Ballmer arrives


A review of the NBA in the year 2014.

The highs

• Waving goodbye to “The Donald.” Months of chaos commenced with the text message “Let the games began” aimed at Clippers owner Donald Sterling by V. Stiviano, his estranged companion who surreptitiously recorded him making disparaging comments about blacks. The ordeal ended with the less grammatically challenged headline “Ballmer’s Purchase of Clippers Is Approved.” A court had confirmed Steve Ballmer’s right to purchase the team for a record $2 billion from Donald and Shelly Sterling.

Kawhi Leonard wins NBA Finals MVP. San Antonio beating Miami on basketball’s biggest stage was partly an L.A. story. The kid from Moreno Valley who was not recruited by UCLA erected his own pyramid of success, hoisting the Finals’ most-valuable-player trophy after averaging 23.7 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 68.6% over the Spurs’ final three games. Even more amazing was the perpetually stoic Leonard’s cracking a smile afterward.


LeBron James takes his talents … back to Cleveland. Ebenezer Scrooge would have teared up reading James’ heartfelt letter explaining his decision to return to his home state. Those two championships James won in his four years in Miami had nothing on the emotional pull of northeast Ohio. “It’s where I walked,” James wrote, with an assist from Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins. “It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart.” Sniff, sniff.

• Ballmer makes a hard-core introduction. It was part Tony Robbins seminar, part spiritual revival and wholly entertaining. Ballmer exchanged fist bumps and high-fives with fans during a welcome rally at Staples Center in which he set the (voluble) tone for his ownership. The former Microsoft executive then turned over control of the scoreboard by allowing fans to select highlights from their mobile devices during timeouts in games. His team isn’t bad, either.

Adam Silver banned Sterling and pushed out Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson over racially unsavory remarks. He extended the All-Star break and is reportedly considering condensing the preseason in a move that would reduce the number of back-to-back games during the regular season. It’s been all warm fuzzies for the executive who will need to tap into that reservoir of goodwill if players opt out of the collective bargaining agreement as expected during the summer of 2017.

The lows

• The revival of the Clippers Curse. The Clippers had a seven-point lead with 49 seconds to go and one of the game’s top closers in Chris Paul, needing only to avoid one of the worst collapses in NBA playoff history to beat Oklahoma City in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals. They couldn’t do it. Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant made a three-pointer and a layup. Paul committed two turnovers and fouled Russell Westbrook on a three-point attempt. Referee Tony Brothers made a controversial out-of-bounds ruling in the Thunder’s favor. The Clippers’ season didn’t officially end for two more days, but it was essentially over after their 105-104 meltdown.

• See you next fall, Kobe Bryant. A lost season became lost and boring when the Lakers announced in March that their last superstar was done for the season because of lingering discomfort from a fractured knee. Bryant finished the 2013-14 season having played in only six games because of the knee injury and a previously torn Achilles’ tendon, though he uttered a few sarcastic, if not prophetic, words in one of his final sessions of the season with reporters: “Oh, yeah, let’s just play next year and let’s just suck again. No. Absolutely not.” Well, actually …


• Lakers strike out again in free agency. Does anyone detect a pattern here? Dwight Howard left when the Lakers begged him in 1,000-point type to stay. Carmelo Anthony walked the red carpet in New York after being shown a fictional movie trailer of him living in Los Angeles. LeBron James soared into Cleveland after a Lakers contingent flew to meet his representatives in Ohio. The Chicago Bulls offered Pau Gasol less moolah than the Lakers and he accepted. Those championship trophies sitting in the window of the Lakers’ practice facility have become like the stopped clock in Miss Havisham’s house, distant reminders of an era when things ticked.

• “There was no role for him.” They are six words that could live in Lakers infamy, Jeanie Buss’ explanation of why beau Phil Jackson became the New York Knicks’ president instead of assuming a similar front-office role with the Lakers. The problem with those words is that they ring hollow under the Lakers’ power structure. Jeanie is at the top of the organizational flow chart, meaning she could have created a role for Jackson if she so desired.

• Dunk this. It seemed impossible, making All-Star weekend even more forgettable, but the NBA managed to do it with its new dunk contest rules. To recap: It was a team competition involving sequences known as the freestyle and battle rounds, but John Wall was declared the winner in fan voting. Say what?