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Wednesday, July 23, 2014
The Clippers' no-win situation

By J.A. Adande


There’s no need for Doc Rivers, Chris Paul or any other member of the Los Angeles Clippers to abandon ship now, because there’s no way for them to beat Donald Sterling. You can’t defeat a man who doesn’t care if he loses, and Sterling’s made it clear he fears no loss at all. He doesn’t care if he loses out on the $2 billion he could get if he signed off on the sale of the team to Steve Ballmer. He doesn’t care about salvaging whatever respect accompanied his name. He doesn’t care about paying attorneys for a never-ending series of lawsuits.

There’s no reason to prove a point to the NBA because commissioner Adam Silver and the league are on their side, having banned Sterling for life with a willingness to vote to oust him if need be. If the forced sale gets tied up in the legal system, so will an attempt by Sterling to overturn his ban. Either way, don’t expect Sterling to be sitting courtside on opening night. So what would a resignation by Rivers – as interim CEO Richard Parsons suggested could happen -- or a player boycott accomplish? It would create nothing but hardship for other players, fans, arena workers and broadcast partners.

For anyone contemplating bailing, it’s really about resolving a conflict with their own conscience. And the only way to do that would be to give back every dollar they ever made from Sterling. They can’t act as if Sterling’s true nature only came to light when TMZ posted the V. Stiviano recordings in April. If they signed their contracts in a shroud of ignorance, that’s on them.

Sterling’s lawyers are trying to portray this entire saga as an unfair exploitation of an illegally recorded private conversation. It’s so far beyond that now. Every act of defiance by Sterling, every sponsor who stays away from the Clippers while he still owns the team, every day this story drags on all conspire to “affect the Association…adversely”, which is one of the criteria for the NBA to terminate ownership. So is delinquency in paying debts to the league, and the NBA says Sterling still hasn’t paid the $2.5 million fine levied by Silver.

It’s impossible to discern Sterling’s end game. He can’t realistically hope to keep his team. He’s not looking to get as much money as possible. He apparently enjoys inconveniencing as many people for as long as he can. The option of inconveniencing him right back isn’t viable. He takes the witness stand and disparages everyone in the NBA, yet he resists a $2 billion opportunity to rid himself of their company forever. Apparently, he prefers this misery.

Even if the players, sponsors and fans abandon him and he feels compelled to sell he’ll still reap a windfall. We just witnessed the Clippers go through a no-leverage sale (get rid of the team immediately or have the league do it for you) and get sold at quadruple the market value. Apparently there’s nothing that can depreciate this asset. Sterling’s best efforts couldn’t.

The irony of Rivers weighing the option of quitting is that it would be the equivalent of firing someone who had just typed up a letter of resignation.