Donald Sterling's Cheapest Moments as Los Angeles Clippers Owner

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistJune 19, 2013

Donald Sterling's Cheapest Moments as Los Angeles Clippers Owner

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    With the Los Angeles Clippers making headlines recently as they try to pick up Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers, a stark contrast is created between the current Clippers willing to spend money and Donald Sterling's cheap past.

    Ever since they drafted Blake Griffin, it seems that Sterling decided spending money was something that could actually help his team, so he's gone in that direction for a few years.

    Of course, that only comes after nearly three decades of Sterling being as cheap as possible.

    It's been said that you don't get rich by spending money, and that certainly seems to be the case as far as he is concerned.

    However, you can't build a successful basketball team without spending money either.

    Throughout over 30 years owning the Clippers, Sterling has been criticized time and time again for pinching pennies so tight that he's got a permanent imprint of Abraham Lincoln embedded into his palm.

    It's crazy that such a lavish man, who is genuinely dedicated to his community, would cheap out on his professional basketball team for decades.

    Some of the things he's done in his days as the team's owner seem surprising, but when you remind yourself that it's just Sterling being Sterling, each is a dramatic step up in cheapness from the last.

8. Clippers Seemed to Un-Pad Stats

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    Perhaps the best example of the lengths which Sterling would go to in order to save a few bucks was an allegation from a former stat-keeper for the team back in the mid-90s.

    In an interview with Deadspin, a keeper who only revealed his name as "Alex" accused the Clippers of forcing their own to keep assist numbers down during a particularly puzzling period.

    Between 1987 and 2009, home teams assisted on 61.8 percent of their field goals; away teams, 58.3 percent—a gap of 3.5 percentage points in favor of the home squads. Year after year, the Clippers reversed the trend. In 1996, the Clips' scorekeepers credited the team with assists on 47 percent of its field goals (with only Pooh Richardson averaging more than five assists per game); in other arenas, the same Clippers team assisted on 60 percent of its field goals, a difference of 13 percentage points. No team since 1987 has underreported its own assists by a larger margin. Second-largest: The Clippers in 1999, with a difference of 12.2 percentage points. Third-largest: The Clippers in 1998, at 12.1 points. Fifth-largest: The Clippers in 1997, at 9.1 points.

    Nobody has come out against the team, but it definitely had some fishy statistics in a time when it was notorious for low-balling players come contract negotiation time.

7. Who Needs a Coach?

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    The lockout that terminated a huge chunk of the 1998-99 season took a toll on the league, but it seems Donald Sterling saw it as an opportunity to save a few bucks.

    Los Angeles let its head coach, Bill Fitch, go after just 17 wins in 1997-98. And with the lockout looming, they showed no interest in replacing him right away.

    For six months, the Clippers were without a head coach, which means there was nobody figuring out what to do with the roster, putting together a team of assistants or figuring out the plan for the team once the lockout ended.

    Chris Ford was eventually hired, won nine times in the 50-game season and just 11 in the first 45 games before getting canned.

    Ray Melchiorre was the team's trainer from 1996 to 1999, and he dropped this gem on Sports Illustrated back in 2000:

    "Going without a coach didn't make the Clippers any worse."

6. Eight Is Enough

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    Sterling's cheap ways were on an especially impressive display during his early days as the Clippers owner.

    Back in 1983, he was fined $10,000 for suggesting the Clippers tank in order to better their draft position. In response, he decided against adding any players when the Clippers were down to just eight bodies, the league minimum for number of active players.

    Late in the season, Michael Brooks had to undergo oral surgery, but that didn't force Sterling to sign any additional players.

    Brooks not only suited up, but played in the game despite a swollen jaw.

5. The Clippers Deny Medical Coverage

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    It remains to be seen whether or not this one falls more under the "Sterling is cheap" category or the "Sterling is a jackass" category, but it definitely deserves to be in both.

    Back in the early 2000s, Kim Hughes, an assistant coach with the Clippers, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He wanted to get the surgery done before training camp started, but was informed by the Clippers that they wouldn't be covering his medical bills.

    According to Hughes, Clippers officials were concerned about the impact it might have down the road. "They said if they did it for one person, they'd have to do for everybody else."

    Corey Maggette, Chris Kaman and Marco Jaric were all noted Clippers players who paid the $70,000 of medical bills, all while Sterling sat idly by.

4. Bailing on the Sunken Ship

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    The Los Angeles Clippers had nine lottery picks between 1985 and 1998, most of which were relatively high selections.

    With that many high picks over the course of 14 drafts, it's a bit surprising that they only made the playoffs three times. One of the biggest reasons is that not one of those nine lottery picks re-upped with the team following their initial contract.

    Heck, a few of them were traded away before ever playing a single game for the Clippers.

    Not only is this an example of the rapid turnover the Clippers experienced for over a decade, but their unwillingness to pay young players.

3. I'll Take My Money

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    Some of the individual interaction stories involving Donald Sterling really reveal just how cheap he has been in his days, and none do more to uphold that image than a free-throw contest.

    Back in 1981, Sterling had a handful of lawyers and real estate agents to lunch, and even held a free-throw shooting contest between them and a few players for $1,000.

    Michael Spilger knocked down nine of 10, but was told afterward that the $1,000 offer was no longer on the table. Instead, the prize was a trip to Puerto Rico, for which Spilger would have to pay airfare, food and transportation.

    Spilger threatened to sue after Sterling offered season tickets, a trip to Las Vegas or a donation to his favorite charity instead.

    It took more than a year, but Spilger did finally get his money.

2. Ron Harper

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    We could go ahead and run down a list of players who got up and left Los Angeles throughout the '80s and '90s because of the team not wanting to give them a fair salary, but I think Ron Harper is the perfect example.

    In 1993, the Clippers made the playoffs after a solid .500 season. During the offseason, Larry Brown and a handful of the starting lineup left the franchise, while Harper grabbed a one-year deal with the team for $4 million.

    The next offseason, Los Angeles offered him a five-year, $16 million deal, while the Chicago Bulls offered him a $20 million deal for the same length.

    Harper said of the scenario:

    Sterling's people tried to convince me their offer was better. I told them, 'It sounds $4 million worse.' Finally they told me, 'O.K., go ahead, have fun.' And I told them, 'I will.' " Harper laughs raucously and says, "I got three championship rings in Chicago, so I can't be mad.

    That $4 million that they paid Harper in 1993 remained the most they paid a single player until Michael Olowokandi's status as the No. 1 pick forced them to pay slightly more than that in 2001.

1. Is a Trainer Necessary?

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    Offering players lower salaries than they deserve, keeping down coaching costs, training camp costs and day-to-day expenses isn't anything new, even if Sterling did take it to another level.

    However, when it comes to the health of the team's players, doesn't it seem as if the term, "spare no expense" should pop up?

    Not if you're Donald Sterling.

    In his first season as the team's owner, Sterling once famously asked head coach Paul Silas if he thought they really needed a trainer.

    What initially sounds as if it could be nothing but a joke, Sterling took it to the next level by asking Silas if he could tape players up himself before games.

    I'd call that a bad omen for the next three decades if there ever was one.


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