- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- A day after perhaps the biggest win in team history, the Los Angeles Clippers introduced Dick Parsons as their interim CEO in what could be one of the most important hires in the Clippers' existence.
"My job is to be the CEO of the enterprise and to make sure the boat still floats, the boat is still headed in the right direction, and maybe even we pick up a little speed," Parsons said Monday afternoon during a news conference at Staples Center.
Parsons, appointed by NBA commissioner Adam Silver last week to guide the Clippers franchise in wake of owner Donald Sterling's lifetime ban and team executive Andy Roeser's indefinite leave of absence, said he is filling a need.
"Given the suspensions and the sort of indefinite leaves of absence that have taken place, the team right now finds itself without executive leadership, or the company, the business finds itself without executive leadership," Parsons said. "And that's not something the NBA can tolerate, so they need someone to step in and take hold of this thing and be on an interim basis the leader and make sure that no value is lost, make sure that the enterprise continues to function in an appropriate way, perhaps even help it move to the next level, but certainly help it move through this period of transition."
Parsons, a former chairman of CitiGroup and Time Warner who currently is a senior adviser at Providence Equity Partners and sits on the board of directors for the Commission on Presidential Debates, said that his relationship with Silver led to him coming out of "semi-retirement" to oversee the Clippers.
"He is a good man trying to do an important job and trying to do the right thing," Parsons said of Silver, whom he previously worked closely with while at Time Warner, which has a controlling stake in the Atlanta Hawks. "It struck me that maybe I could be of some help to him and to the league and frankly to all of us in terms of bringing some calmness and order to this side of the equation at least as the big fight over ownership goes forward."
Parsons spent his first day with the team meeting with members of the Clippers' business operations and basketball management. He had previously spoken to Clippers senior vice president of basketball operations and coach, Doc Rivers, and expressed full confidence in the direction Rivers had steered the franchise since Sterling's racist comments were released.
"Doc is just doing a terrific job, and people are like, whoa, this guy is a hell of a guy," Parsons said, while acknowledging the irony of the fact that he, like Rivers, is an African-American man deciding the future of a team that has been taken from an owner who made disparaging remarks about African-Americans. "The team, the team has risen to the challenge, and I'm hoping that to some small extent maybe I can, too, and help people look beyond just race and look to the content of people's character and their ability to perform."
Rivers returned the faith in Parsons during a conference call with reporters later on Monday afternoon.
"I think it's really important getting someone in place and being able to calm the nerves and do their job and allow everybody else to do their jobs. I think that's really important," said Rivers. "Getting Dick in is a huge step in the right direction I think for us."
Parsons said he believes the league is heading in the right direction in their plan to oust Sterling from his stake in the Clippers.
"I have a belief, and my personal belief is that the league will prevail, which means that there will be an ownership change," Parsons said. "That's a personal belief based on having not only looked at the (legal documents) but having looked Adam Silver in the eye and seen the determination, and my goodness, I mean, this is just -- there's so much momentum for doing the right thing here and so much support for doing the right thing that at the end of the day, I believe ownership will change."
While Parsons is not officially tasked with being involved in the search for new ownership, he said he has preexisting relationships with many of the possible candidates -- including Magic Johnson.
"I know virtually all the names that are out there personally," Parsons said. "So I did get some e-mails saying, 'Hey, congratulations, this is really terrific, good luck. And oh, by the way ...' But I haven't had any conversations with anybody."
That includes Donald Sterling and his estranged wife, Shelly. Parsons was terse when asked about the apology Sterling made to CNN's Anderson Cooper.
"I would observe -- as most Americans, I think would observe that he's a little late for sure, but beyond that, you know, I'm here to help turn one of the burners off under the pot, not to turn it up higher," Parsons said. "So I think I'll keep my personal views personal and just stay focused on what are we going to do to keep this team on the ascend as it is right now."
Parsons has also not had any conversations with the Clippers' players as of yet. The team flew to Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon and Parsons will fly back to the East Coast to be with his wife, set to undergo a medical procedure on Tuesday, rather than join the team on the road.
Other than the scheduling conflict, Parsons also did not want to force his presence on a Clippers team that has enough going on already, mired in a 2-2 series tie with the Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals.
"It just seemed to me that the players have other things on their mind right now and need to be focused on that, and I don't want to be a distraction, but I did want to come out here and meet with the people who have been keeping this thing afloat and what we're going to count on to keep it going on a go-forward basis," Parsons said.
Rivers said that he knows his team will have to go through more than just basketball-related concerns at this point anyway.
"It's stuff that you as a coach would obviously like not to have to even look for or deal with, but it has now become part of our playoffs," Rivers said. "I think that's the way we view it, it's just part of the process that we're going through. It's made the process more. But just look at it as that, just part of our process."
While Parsons had no set time period in mind that he will work for the team, he assumes that the process will certainly drag into the summer past June 26 when the NBA draft is held and July 1 when free agency commences.
"In the case of the draft, I'd like to say I have a secret envelope, sit down with Doc and say, 'Doc, you know, let me tell you my theory of post-up offense,'" joked Parsons, who played basketball in college at the University of Hawaii. "You know, he's going to be fully my partner, and I may not be the smartest guy in the world -- in fact my daughter gave me a birthday present that says, 'I may not be smart but I can lift heavy things.' I may not be the smartest guy in the world but I know what I don't know, and I know quality decision making when it's existing, so we're going to look to the basketball people to make some sorts of decisions and then support them."
Parsons said that Rivers has not given him a definitive answer as to whether he will honor his contract for next season and beyond and continue to work for the Clippers if Sterling is not yet removed as owner of the team, but seemed confident that Rivers would stick around.
"I have no reason whatsoever to think Doc has got anything in his mind other than sort of finishing this hunt and staying with this team that is moving into a space where I really think it's going to become America's team if we get this right," said Parsons. "Americans love a story where somebody gets knocked down, then they get back up. They get back in the ring. They show they have grit, they have character, and this team also happens to have talent."
And along with that talent, a chance to do something special with it, in Parson's opinion.
"This reminds me of the Chinese symbol for crisis: Danger and opportunity," Parsons said. "I think obviously there's huge danger and pitfalls in front of us, but there's tremendous opportunity, I think, for this franchise, and the exciting part to me is going to be to help realize some of that."