Clippers disassociate from Sterling era with hiring of Gillian Zucker

Steve Ballmer
Clippers Owner Steve Ballmer sits courtside before his team’s season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Oct. 30.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Since Steve Ballmer bought the Clippers for $2 billion, he has seemingly done anything and everything to disassociate the team from the Donald Sterling era.

His decision to hire Gillian Zucker as president of business operations, which the team announced Thursday, only puts more distance between the team’s old leadership and its new one. Now the Clippers’ ownership has gone from being associated with racism, to being associated with celebrating diversity.

The Zucker hire gives the Clippers the second active female sports president in any of the four major sports -- basketball, baseball, football and hockey. The other one, of course, is Jeanie Buss, who holds the same title with the Lakers.

Ballmer began differentiating himself -- and the Clipper organization -- from its past as soon as he took over the team. His first act as owner was to throw Clippers fans a free party at Staples Center.


The only party Sterling was known for throwing was his infamous White Party, in which the players -- to their dismay -- would be paraded around like prized ponies.

In the Players’ Tribune, Blake Griffin described his experience at one of those parties: “I’d try to slip away, and he’d reach back and paw my hand without even breaking eye contact with the person,” Griffin said of Sterling.

Griffin went on to liken Sterling to a “weird uncle” while comparing Ballmer to a “cool dad.”

Ballmer’s presence at games also couldn’t be more different than Sterling’s. Ballmer sits baseline near the Clippers’ bench, and screams his head off, cheering and clapping for his team. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers even recently joked that Ballmer was so loud at one of the games, that he was sure someone was sitting behind him doing a Ballmer impression.


Sterling, on the other hand, was known for being a negative presence at games. He once even heckled Baron Davis as he shot free throws, yelling, “Why are you letting him shoot the free throw? He’s awful! He’s terrible! He’s the worst free throw shooter ever!

Sterling, of course, had been accused of numerous racist acts over his almost 30-year tenure with the team. The final straw being when an audiotape of him making racist remarks about Magic Johnson and black people was released to the media.

Even before Zucker was hired, the team’s front office felt different to the players.

Wrote Griffin in the Players’ Tribune: “When I walked into the training facility for the first time this summer, the entire vibe was different. People were smiling. From the security people to the game operations staff to the office staff, everybody seemed happy to be there. For the first time ever, they were on permanent contracts. Under Sterling, all the staff were on temporary contracts. Top to bottom, everybody just appreciates being appreciated now.”

Griffin also pointed out that under Sterling the training staff had been denied purchasing new computer software that scans the players’ bodies and keeps track of their progress throughout the season.

Ballmer bought the team that software immediately.

“When I walked into the trainer’s room, the staff was going crazy,” Griffin wrote in the Players’ Tribune. “They showed me the new body scanning software. Ballmer signed off on it Day 1.”

Ballmer is apparently trying to create a whole new reputation and feel for the Clippers, attempting to shed the negative pall that was cast over the team by its former owner. Hiring Zucker is his most recent act aimed at creating a new franchise, one that makes headlines for its basketball play, and not its internal strife.


Twitter: @melissarohlin