The Washington Post

Adam Silver, Donald Sterling could not be more different

Two big pieces of Donald Sterling/Adam Silver literature hit the Internet on Tuesday, both fascinating in their own ways.

In the Los Angeles Times, Harriet Ryan and Victoria Kim detail the many instances in which Sterling (and his wife) have used litigation for seemingly no other reason but to wage a war of attrition. The article seems to suggest that Sterling are willing to risk a prolonged court battle against an NBA that wants to strip him of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Meanwhile, Silver gets the full-fledged Sports Illustrated cover treatment as Lee Jenkins mixes biographical information with a tick-tock of how Silver came to his decision to ban Sterling. Silver even got his portrait painted on the cover.

(Courtesy Sports Illustrated)
(Courtesy Sports Illustrated)

After poring over both stories, a few differences between the two men stood out.

— Silver is fond of settlements.

His first post out of law school was a clerkship under newly appointed federal judge Kimba Wood in the Southern District of New York. Within a month he informed Wood that she did not need to prepare for an upcoming case because he had talked the lawyers into a settlement. “I was astounded,” Wood recalls. Silver settled dozens of cases for her, demonstrating an unusual ability to locate middle ground and nudge both parties toward it.

— Sterling will go to court, seemingly for the heck of it.

Opponents and a former lawyer for Donald Sterling said the real estate mogul regards lawsuits as a stalling tactic and has initiated them even when the facts and the law were against him.”I think he knew he wouldn’t win, but it would delay having to pay,” said H. Lee Watson, who worked as Sterling’s in-house counsel in the 1980s. “He was all about cash flow.”

— Also, no amount is too small for Sterling’s family to litigate. Keep in mind: This family is worth an estimated $1.9 billion.

In 2000, Shelly Sterling successfully sued a man in small claims court who owed her $2,000 and two years ago, she sued a body shop over the cost of repairs to a family vehicle. When she fractured her ankle in a fall on an icy walkway at the Peninsula New York hotel in 1996, she sued to recover $15,000 medical expenses. She and the couple’s son Scott, who died last year, sued former neighbors in Beverly Hills in 1998 over injuries he had suffered 10 years earlier in a dog attack. They ultimately settled for $25,000, court records show.

— As a high school student in Rye, N.Y., Silver befriended Masawani Jere, the son of a United Nations ambassador who grew up to be a chief of the Ngoni tribe in Malawi.

Adam tutored Mas in history and algebra. He invited him to concerts and sporting events in the city. He took him to fancy restaurants. He even sold Mas his car, a Volkswagen Scirocco, for $2,000 on a layaway plan.

— During a contract dispute, Sterling once berated former Clippers star Marques Johnson while he was mourning his toddler son, who had drowned.

During the dispute, Johnson’s toddler son, Marques Jr., drowned. An acquaintance of Sterling approached Johnson and said the team owner was sympathetic to his grief and wanted to speak to him, Johnson recalled.

“I called Donald and he starts yelling at me and berating me and telling me how he is going to ruin me financially,” Johnson said. He settled the case out of court for less than he wanted, he said. “I was worn down psychologically, spiritually and financially.”

— Silver went to court to defend the less fortunate.

He and President Barack Obama are both 52, and while Obama worked on the South Side as a community organizer, Silver was the most active law student at Mandel Legal Aid Clinic in the same area. The cases he handled at the clinic, all pro bono, were mainly for victims of housing or employment discrimination who could not afford private counsel.

— After being told by a West Hollywood code-enforcement officer that an apartment Sterling was renting out lacked a proper permit, Sterling took it out on the tenant.

In the lack of a permit, the Sterlings’ lawyers saw grounds to evict the longtime tenant, an unemployed man paying less than $500 a month. His lawyer accused them in a court filing of trying to flout rent-control laws and predicted that his client would become homeless if the suit succeeded. The Sterlings’ attorneys pressed the case to trial, trotting out an obscure 19th century property law and summoning Shelly Sterling to the witness stand.

The city and the tenant ultimately prevailed, but only after a year and a half of costly litigation.

After spending the first 17 years of his Post career writing and editing, Matt and the printed paper had an amicable divorce in 2014. He's now blogging and editing for the Early Lead and the Post's other Web-based products.



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