It hasn’t always been about glamor, fame, women, and good works for Donald Sterling, owner and, may I add, benefactor to the Los Angeles Clippers as well as a patron to all people of color living within the Greater Los Angeles Area, which, last time I checked, consisted of 16+ million residents. As you know many residents are people of color.
On the other hand, when you think about it, who cares about L.A.? Sterling’s ties to San Diego are thick and deep. L.A. can go to hell. It was Sterling who brought the NBA to San Diego. And it was Sterling who moved the NBA out of San Diego.
Hmm. A moment, if you please.
Actually, Robert Breitbard founded a NBA expansion team, the San Diego Rockets, in 1967. And it was Breitbard who sold the San Diego Rockets to Texas interests in 1971. But hey, LBJ used to call his penis “Jumbo.” Does anybody care about that now? Forget the Rockets. They live, along with their world championship banners, in another world.
Dear Reader, do not become overwrought. We shall return to the San Diego Clippers and its happy union with Donald Sterling, but first you’ll need some background.
The Buffalo Braves entered the NBA as an expansion team in 1970. Over time the City of Buffalo and the Buffalo Braves became estranged. Enter John Y. Brown, Jr., a highly successful vacuum salesman in high school, which was precursor to being a highly successful salesman of Encyclopedia Britannica sets in college. In 1964, Brown assembled investors and bought Kentucky Fried Chicken for $2 million. Flipped it seven years later for $284 million. Among many other toys, Brown purchased half ownership in the Buffalo Braves. The year was 1976. Brown acquired full ownership the following year and then, get this, traded his failed Buffalo franchise to fellow NBA owner Irv Levin, for Levin’s franchise, the Boston Celtics.
You ask why. The truer, cosmic answer is that it would take walking this switchback trail before we could welcome Donald Sterling into our lives. The more pedestrian answer is that rich people like to have things go their way. So what if it was an insanely unequal trade. At the time the Celtics had won 13 world championships, the Buffalo Braves were dog shit. The reason for the trade was simplicity itself. Celtics owner Irv Levin was a California guy and wanted his NBA franchise to be located in California. So, Brown and Levin swapped franchises and Levin moved the Braves to San Diego in 1978. NBA general counsel and lifelong Donald Sterling enabler, David Stern, brokered the deal.
And now, finally, it’s May, 1981, and Levin sells the Clippers to Los Angeles philanthropist Donald Sterling for $13.5 million. According to Forbes Magazine the franchise has appreciated $1,877,000,000 since then.
It was a happy time. Regard an AP story headlined, “Clippers Sold to a Lawyer”: “The struggling San Diego Clippers have been sold to Donald T. Sterling, a Los Angeles lawyer who said today that he was ‘prepared to pay whatever it costs’ to make the team a winner.
“Sterling said the franchise would remain in San Diego and that he planned to live here and practice law here and in Los Angeles... ‘We’re not that far away,’ Sterling said. ‘We can be a winner in a year.’”
At the time, Sterling was quoted in The Journal of San Diego History as saying, “You can say that I have substantial assets. We are going after box-office names. Whatever a winning team costs, we are prepared to pay... We think we owe that much to the fans.”
Perhaps the debt to fans wasn’t as big as Sterling originally thought. And having substantial assets doesn’t mean you can, save for philanthropic endeavors, be a wastrel with your money. “It seemed as though everything was reduced in some way... For example, in the 1982, ’83 season Sterling arranged for the team to train at North Island Naval Air Station in order to further cut spending... Also, when Sterling cut back scouting from $23,402 to $1100, there was an incalculable risk in future drafts.”
Realizing the city had turned against him, Sterling held a press conference in May of 1984 and announced he would be moving the Clippers to Los Angeles. One assumes his philanthropy needed a larger stage.
And now, just because a woman has, reportedly, over 100 hours of tape featuring Sterling talking about his good works on behalf of poor people, and people of color, this good man may not see his $1.9 billion net worth climb over the bar to $2 billion.
Oh, sharper than a serpent’s tooth...