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Saturday, March 7, 2009
Pound Sterling


Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

More details have emerged on Clippers owner Donald Sterling's tirade in the Clippers locker room following the Clips' Monday night home loss against San Antonio: 

Sterling, according to the sources, blasted players by name, including the team's second-leading scorer Al Thornton. In one exchange, Sterling called Thornton the most selfish basketball player he has ever seen. When Thornton asked coach Mike Dunleavy (who was standing nearby) how he was playing, before he could answer Sterling told Dunleavy to "shut up" according to one of the sources.

Clips Nation has an absolute must-read on the episode. The post begins with a smart juxtaposition of Mark Cuban's rant vs. Sterling's "out of control" tantrum and -- more important -- the contrasting presence the two owners cast over their respective franchises: 

Cuban is a constant, active presence around the Mavericks.  He has a relationship with the players, he is incredibly visible to the fans, he is transaparent - if anything, too transparent.  He blogs for FSM's sake.  As such, it's not unusual that he spoke about the team after a loss, only that he passionately conveyed his disappointment. 

Sterling is also a presence.  A dark specter, a sepulchral cloud that hangs over the franchise.  He is rarely interviewed, and is perceived to take little or no interest in the team beyond the money it costs him...

60 games in, he has yet to be quoted discussing the Clippers this season.  He answered a couple of questions regarding the Elgin Baylor lawsuit in February, and that's the sum total of what we've heard from Donald Sterling this season.  Until now.  (Don't get me started on what we heard from him last year.)

It's also worth noting the difference in the way these messages were conveyed.  Mark Cuban sat down with the Dallas basketball reporters and gave them direct quotes.  Donald Sterling showed up in the locker room (the first time that has happened in six seasons, according to MDsr) and went on a "profanity-laced tirade" according to one account.  I suppose you could make an argument that behind closed doors was the better way to proceed as opposed to calling out the team in the press.  But that ignores the reality and the history of the situations.  Cuban is well known to his players and interacts with them frequently.  For all we know, he said all of this to the players in the Ford Center after the game and the players had enough respect for him to keep it to themselves.  But he was willing to go on record as well, and he has earned that right as an involved owner.  

To the Clippers, Sterling is just the guy who signs the checks.  Given the turnover on this roster, it's entirely possible that the first time some of these players heard Donald Sterling's voice was as he was dropping F-bombs on them.  Think Alex Acker or Fred Jones have had lunch with the boss?  If I've established a rapport with you, and then I justifiably criticize you, it may motivate you to improve.  If I've completely ignored you for six months and then I show up and yell and scream, it will have the opposite effect.  As a team source said, "After that the guys don't even want to play for him."  What a surprise.

In Cuban's case, sitting down and talking to reporters was a calculated tactic to try to get his team's attention.  He wants their effort to improve, and he's sincere when he says that they won't be back if it doesn't.  He's willing to back that up.

In Sterling's case, he got pissed off and became hysterical.  I suppose it's an improvement over complete apathy.  But is he even willing to do something about it other than berate the players he has until now been ignoring?

As recently as 2006, the Clippers looked poised to emerge from their rank as pro sports' worst franchise. Sterling began to spend money; he hired a legitimate NBA coach; premier players such as Elton Brand seemed to embrace the Clippers as a desirable place to call home. Facile critics could no longer dismiss the franchise as a punch line. 

Sterling's recent antics, be it his conduct in the public sphere, the ugly parting with Elgin Baylor, and now his antics in the locker room, are a sober reminder that no matter how much the organization might try to reinvent itself, ownership continues to be "[a] dark specter, a sepulchral cloud that hangs over the franchise." 

Clips Nation's conclusion channels every Clipper fans' eternal frustration and disgust: 

We sometimes get upset at the overly simplistic "It's the Clippers" approach to the coverage of our (unnaturally, undeservedly) beloved team.  When Sterling is quiet long enough that we can almost forget about what a bad, bad human being he is, we think "Hey, why can't the Clippers succeed some day?"  And then he opens his mouth and we know the answer.  As long as Donald Sterling is the owner, I fear that "It's the Clippers" will be a valid explanation for everything.