Donald Sterling’s time as Clippers owner marked by major futility

The NBA’s announcement Tuesday that the Clippers were sold to former Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer ends Donald Sterling’s 33 years as the team’s owner. Assuming no legal challenge reverses the sale, it brings to a close one of the most prolonged and miserable ownership eras of any pro sports team.

Sterling bought the franchise when it was in San Diego in 1981 and in that first season, coached by Paul Silas, the Clippers stumbled to a 17-65 record. It was a taste of what was to come in the Sterling era. He moved the team to Los Angeles in 1984, but the suffering continued for Clippers fans.

Here’s a quick look at the team’s record on the court during Sterling’s tenure, one marked by near-constant underachievement:

--In 33 seasons, Sterling’s Clippers reached the playoffs only seven times — and never got past the second round.


--The Clippers’ regular-season record under Sterling was 987-1,671, a .371 winning percentage.

--It took 11 seasons until a Sterling team reached the playoffs. In 1992, the Clippers lost in Game 5 of a five-game series at Utah.

--The Clippers became a regular participant in the NBA’s lottery draft, but for the most part their first-round draft picks were a string of disappointments or complete flops. Here’s a sampling: Benoit Benjamin (1985), Reggie Williams (1987), Bo Kimble (1990), Michael Olowokandi, No. 1 overall pick in 1998, and Yaroslav Korolev (2005).

--The Clippers’ coaching staff was also a revolving door to the unemployment line under Sterling. He had 18 head coaches in 33 seasons. Many were forgettable: Jim Lynam, Mike Schuler, Bob Weiss, Jim Todd, Kim Hughes; a couple were memorable: Larry Brown and Bill Fitch.


The paradox is that Sterling’s ownership ends with the Clippers as a championship contending team, thanks to Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Coach Doc Rivers.

Griffin was the No. 1 overall pick in 2009. Then in December 2011, then-NBA Commissioner David Stern blocked the Lakers’ trade for Paul and instead approved a deal sending the All-Star point guard to the Clippers, making them an instant playoff team. And last year the Clippers hired Rivers, who added more credibility.

So the Clippers head into their first season in the Ballmer era as a 12-1 betting favorite to win the NBA title next June, according to Only Cleveland (3-1 favorite), San Antonio (9-2), Oklahoma City (6-1) and Chicago (8 1/2-1) are rated higher. Being a title favorite is still a difficult thing for many older Clippers fans to get used to.