Donald Sterling Fiasco Opens Door for Clippers to Shed Loser Label for Good

Kevin DingNBA Senior WriterMay 13, 2014

Mark J. Terrill/AP Images

LOS ANGELES — What could Donald Sterling have possibly been thinking in doing his blathering please-love-me-back-NBA-partners interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN?

At the risk of venturing onto the treacherous turf of Sterling's mind—well, at least I'm welcome there because Asian-Americans are the rare minority he will rent to!—there is actually some logic at work.

At the core, it's the same logic that was used by Dick Parsons, the NBA's chosen fill-in for Sterling as the Los Angeles Clippers' interim CEO, as he spoke at a news conference at Staples Center three hours before Sterling's CNN interview aired Monday.

"Americans love a story where somebody gets knocked down," Parsons said. "Then they get back up. They get back in the ring. They show they have good character."

Where Sterling is delusional is in believing he could score on that last point—or thinking he is going to get up and win his fight with a sob story begging his fellow NBA owners for forgiveness. However, one of the more interesting moments from the CNN interview saw Sterling, who at first didn't want to consider that future, hint that he would not fight the forced sale of the Clippers.

"Whatever their decision is with regard to the disposition of my terrible words, then I have to do it, I think," Sterling said.

That would streamline the process tremendously, as the other issue of Donald's estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, fighting the NBA to keep her ownership is good for the media circus but overblown in its relevance.

She is nothing more than background noise. The NBA is on solid ground with its constitution terminating other owners when the controlling owner is ousted. Even if she throws lawsuits at the NBA for years and years, the central issue to the league forcing a change in Clippers ownership is getting the franchise out of Donald's hands.

As historically litigious as he is, Donald Sterling might well make this thing messy, too.

Yet whether new ownership arrives soon or much later, the eventual sunrise everybody not named Sterling should see by now is clear: The days of the loser Clippers are over.

Sterling, the longest-tenured owner in the NBA, has made the Clippers the league's cheap laughingstock for 33 years. Before this season, they had won all of two playoff series.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 11: Chris Paul #3 and Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers celebrate after winning a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

If they can win two of the next three games from the Oklahoma City Thunder and advance past the second round, this Sterling-less Clippers team will have equaled all the playoff series won by all previous Sterling-run Clippers teams!

The fact that the team is very good now—Sterling did finally start spending some money with this latest chance to win—only adds to the draw of a fresh start under a new owner. And the list of prospective new owners is both daunting and exciting, even without Sterling's CNN interview adding fuel to the fire that Magic Johnson is determined to buy the Clippers.

Make no mistake, there are Lakers people hugely worried these days not just by the Clippers' playoff run—they are also fully aware that the Clippers could shortly be owned by a famous face such as Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, Floyd Mayweather or P. Diddy…and funded by pockets of limitless depth from Larry Ellison, David Geffen, Rick Caruso, Patrick Soon-Shiong or Mark Walter. Parsons noted Monday that he has received emails from a slew of high-powered friends about his new post with every message including an "Oh, by the way…" mention of interest in buying the Clippers.

In an intriguing twist, titans such as Ellison, Geffen, Soon-Shiong and Johnson previously looked more likely to be potential owners or investors of the Lakers if the day came when Jerry Buss' children decided to sell—even if Jeanie Buss were still owning part of and running the franchise. Soon-Shiong, in fact, bought Johnson's four percent of the Lakers in 2011. And there has been plenty of private discussion of whether Johnson's grandstanding against Jim Buss and the Lakers was just Johnson angling to own the team.

The Lakers' dominance of the local and global marketplace is undisputed. But the days of the Clippers being a niche product primarily for anti-establishment folks or working-class dudes are gone—not just because of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul in the present, but because of no Donald Sterling in the future.

As he sat in his Clippers-inspired red tie, white shirt and blue suit on Monday, Parsons was correct when he said about the Clippers franchise: "I really think it's going to become America's team if we get this right." That was absolutely the feeling two weeks ago as the Clippers won a pivotal Game 5 over the Golden State Warriors in the first game at Staples since Sterling's comments were released.

Interim CEO Dick Parsons will oversee the team's business operations until a new owner is found for the team.
Interim CEO Dick Parsons will oversee the team's business operations until a new owner is found for the team.Uncredited/Associated Press

Parsons understands the American way better than most. His resume includes advising for presidents Gerald Ford then and Barack Obama now. Parsons appreciates how we are intrinsically drawn to both the underdog and the comeback—and that this situation is a chance for the country to show the progress it can make in race relations.

"All eyes around the world are on this," Parsons said.

The Clippers' brand is suddenly one of the most recognizable in sports, and if it is redeemed without Sterling, it becomes one of the most valuable, too. If the ownership change is dragged out, maybe the next owner renames the team; even so, it's still clear sailing thereafter.

This is what business people refer to as "opportunity investing." The potential is limitless.

Aside from being an NBA franchise in Los Angeles, this is a team whose TV rights go up for grabs in two years—coinciding with Kobe Bryant's projected retirement from the Lakers—in a market where Fox Sports simply can't stand to lose the Clippers after already losing both the Lakers and Dodgers to Time Warner Cable's new networks; and those networks will be hungry to add the Clippers, too.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Magic Johnson attended the Clippers' Game 4 win over OKC together.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Magic Johnson attended the Clippers' Game 4 win over OKC together.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

So as Parsons stepped into what remains a mess for the moment, he couldn't resist telling Clippers staffers Monday morning that the motivational anecdote of the Chinese symbol for "crisis" is a combination of two characters, one meaning "danger" and one meaning "opportunity."

It's a neat anecdote for business executives to use, except it's simply not true. The second Chinese character only connotes "opportunity" when paired with certain other non-crisis characters.

There are always going to be cultural or racial misunderstandings in our mix, but hopefully fewer idiotic ones. This "opportunity" one is an understandable mistakeespecially in this situation.

After decades of Sterling putting a ceiling on the Clippers' success, there is now opportunity everywhere you look.


Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.