30 for 30 Podcasts and The Undefeated collaborated on a five-part podcast series on Donald Sterling, released this week as The Sterling Affairs. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne hosted and reported the collection. You have surely heard about it. You have probably listened to it. If not, correct that. Find some time — it’s about four hours in total, and absolutely worth it.
The series gets into Sterling’s origin story both as a rich man and as the Clippers’ franchisee. It gets deep in the housing discrimination record (the most disgusting stuff in Sterling’s disgusting record). It goes all the way up through and past the infamous 2014 V. Stiviano incident that ended up with Sterling out of the league. For those who haven’t listened yet, here are five amazing takeaways, some we knew and forgot and some that are brand new knowledge.
1. Sterling loaned Jerry Buss the money to buy the Lakers! This was a revelation to me. Buss was highly leveraged with real estate and couldn’t get liquid enough to complete the deal to buy the Lakers from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979. He called Sterling — a fellow SoCal real estate mogul — who took some properties off of Buss’ hands in exchange for the cash. The rest is history.
2. Sterling got fined for talking about tanking almost 40 years ago. Shelburne got the tapes of Sterling telling the media the Clippers were so bad that it made no sense to win games, and how important it was to win the No. 1 overall pick in 1982. San Diego ended up two games better than Cleveland. The Cavaliers did a bad deal with the Lakers that landed James Worthy in LA. The Clippers picked Terry Cummings. Dominique Wilkins went third. Ugh.
3. The NBA almost voted Sterling out in 1982. Sterling tried to move the Clippers from San Diego to Los Angeles without authorization after his first season with the team. This enraged the league office (and Buss) so much that NBA commissioner Larry O’Brien started proceedings to get Sterling kicked out of the NBA then! Two years later, Sterling used a loophole in the NBA bylaws that was identical to one Al Davis used to move the Raiders. He ended up paying a small fine for his actions. What a world.
4. Sterling held an annual charity gala in which he bumbled through a grand show of handing out money to charities. This is excruciating. He did idiotic things like assume a particular high school had lots of Asian students because the counselor accepting the grant was Asian. He botched names. He lauded his own generosity. So gross.
5. The NBA moved quickly to remove Sterling in 2014 to its own benefit. This was an interesting twist for me, and I had followed (and written about) the Sterling saga quite closely in April and May 2014. I had understood originally that the NBA was caught up on an expressway of reaction and action due to sponsors abandoning the Clippers within days of the tape’s release, and because the players’ union made a show of force before Game 5 of the Clips-Warriors series. At the time, it seemed like the NBA had no choice but to move really fast, leading to Adam Silver’s ban of Sterling on the Tuesday after the tape came out. But actually, it was in the NBA’s legal interest — if it actually wanted to oust Sterling — to use the momentum of extremely hot public reaction to make this move quickly. Silver and the league weren’t rushed into a decision by players, brands, or the public. Moving at lightning speed was part of the legal campaign to oust Sterling. Interesting!
There’s a lot more, and I’ll be writing about another angle of all this soon. But please do listen: understanding Sterling helps us understand the league’s power structure a little better and its history a lot better.
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