Donald Sterling has already made it clear that he won’t give up the Clippers without a fight (and some ugly behavior). Not content to be currently squaring off with his wife in one Los Angeles courtroom, Sterling filed suit against her and the NBA today, charging that Shelly Sterling’s pending sale of the team to billionaire Steve Ballmer amounts to fraud.
Meanwhile, in the Sterling-vs.-Sterling court case currently going on, interim Clippers CEO Richard Parsons testified that if Donald Sterling remains as owner, Coach Doc Rivers would likely quit the team. When the Sterling scandal first plunged the Clippers into chaos, even as they were competing in the playoffs, Rivers was widely hailed for essentially leading the entire company, not just the players, through the crisis.
An ESPN story quotes Parsons’ testimony as follows:
“If Doc were to leave, that would be a disaster,” Parsons said. “Doc is the father figure of the team. Chris [Paul] is the on-court captain of the team. But Doc is really the guy who leads the effort. He’s the coach, the grown-up, he’s a man of character and ability — not just in a basketball sense, but in the ability to connect with people and gain their trust.
“The team believes in him and admires and loves him. If he were to bail, with all the other circumstances, it would accelerate the death spiral.”
Now, “death spiral” sounds a little strong, considering that Steve Ballmer, for one, thinks the Clippers are a prize worth spending $2 billion to acquire. But the reality is that the battle to get the team out of Sterling’s clutches appears to have no end in sight, and that is troubling for not just Rivers, but for players, fans, the league and its corporate sponsors.
If you’re counting at home, we are at three Clippers-related court proceedings so far. The first was a lawsuit filed by Sterling in May against the NBA, alleging antitrust violations. Then came a probate hearing to determine whether Shelly Sterling was within her rights to take control of the family trust in which the team was held. Here’s the Los Angeles Times on the latest lawsuit:
The action claims that Donald Sterling’s dismantling of the Sterling Family Trust on June 9 precluded his wife, Shelly Sterling, from taking any action to sell the team. Her moves to have him declared mentally incapacitated and to sell to Ballmer before that relied on fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract and inflicted emotional distress on the longtime Clippers owner, his lawsuit contends.
With his June revocation of the family trust, all of the Sterlings’ assets reverted to their previous ownership state, with Donald Sterling the sole shareholder of the Clippers, the lawsuit contends.
There is a lot contending of going on right now, and much of that has been highly contentious. Little wonder that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has already begun preparing for the possibility that he won’t be rid of Sterling before the next season begins. And if that’s the case, the Clippers need to be worried about losing the de facto leader of the franchise, Doc Rivers.