When I read T.J. Simers' column Tuesday morning I was a bit conflicted. I've had nothing much to write about for the last month or so, save my obsessions with Eric Gordon and USA Basketball, and here were strange and hilarious and inflammatory comments from the Clippers' ridiculous owner. It was a situation tailor-made for a snarky blog post, right?
But I couldn't bring myself to do it. Partly because I'm not a Simers fan, and I wasn't too keen on drawing attention to something he wrote. But mainly because it's just so depressing. I may try to play the detached journalist role, but you and I know that I'm a die-hard Clippers fan first and foremost - with all of the dysfunction and delusion pertaining thereto. Nothing makes me more depressed than thinking about Donald T. Sterling - and in order to write about it, I'd pretty much have to think about him. Besides, I've written so much about him already. Go back and read some of it if you like. I can remember writing those earlier posts, and believe me, it leaves me drained and melancholy to do so.
Luckily, in this case, Kevin wrote the post I should have written.
The invaluable Mr. Arnovitz took the perfect tack on the situation: imagine if the guy saying these things were your boss? Sometimes we're not sure how to react to Sterling. We probably assume the worst, but is he acting that differently than any other NBA owner? That's just not a world we live in, so it is at times difficult to gauge exactly how egregious his behavior is. It seems egregious - but what do we know?
So Kevin's point is spot on.
The irony of Sterling's griping about his organization's inability to lure top talent is almost too obvious to acknowledge. You might agree with Sterling that the signings of Gomes and Foye represent a failure for the franchise this summer. You might hold Clippers general manager Neil Olshey accountable for that, or head coach Vinny Del Negro for his input in those choices. I think Olshey exercised discipline and deployed a sound long-term strategy given the circumstances -- Sterling being one of the primary circumstances. Intelligent people can disagree about how the Clippers fared this summer in the marketplace. But whichever side of the argument you fall on, there isn't a reasonable excuse in the world for what Sterling did to Gomes, Foye, Olshey and Del Negro.
Imagine this guy is your boss, and he doesn't even know your name (Randy Foye); but he does publicly avow that he isn't very pleased that you're now working for him (Foye and Ryan Gomes). Do I expect DTS to know the names of every single one of his employees? I guess I'm assuming that there's a difference between the leasing manager at one of his apartment buildings, and one of the 14 players on his half billion dollar basketball team. And yes, it seems to me that he should know all of the players on the Clippers.
There's something delightfully clueless about this whole thing - or at any rate it would be delightful were one not emotionally invested in the fortunes of the franchise. The organization gets plenty of bad press for no particular reason. But when Sterling opens his mouth and says things like "I swear to you, I never heard of these guys, but what if the coach says he wants them?" it's pretty hilarious - and every derogatory word written about the team is well deserved. He's one of 30 owners in the world (actually a lot fewer than that, if you're talking about individuals who own a team outright), and he's never heard of Randy Foye or Ryan Gomes? Presumably he's seen them play at Staples Center, right?
Obviously it's entirely possible that Simers took some comments out of context. The truth is, the gist of the statements, if spun differently, could actually paint a positive picture of an NBA owner. ("I'm not the basketball guy, I stay completely out of the decisions and leave them up to my basketball people. I know that I'm not an expert, so I try to hire experts and then I support them in their decisions.") Micky Arison doesn't tell Pat Riley what to do in Miami - he trusts Riley and signs the checks, which is what the best owners do. So not knowing who Randy Foye is but signing him anyway is actually a good thing - maybe even a great thing. Hey everybody, Sterling is letting basketball people make basketball decisions! Hurray!
But why say something as tone deaf as "I swear to you, I never heard of these guys, but what if the coach says he wants them?" Don't ask "What if the coach says he wants them?" as if your gut tells you that the coach is flat wrong but you're just so stupid that you're helpless to stop him. Say "Those are the guys Vinny wanted, and if Vinny wanted them, that's good enough for me." The basic facts are the same, yet one statement is a vote of confidence in your new coach, while the other is an indictment and (worse still) a pre-emptive strike for deniability if things don't work out ("Don't blame me, I never even heard of the guy. It's Del Negro's fault.")
So yeah, Simers could have put a more positive spin on the comments. But why do I get the feeling that the negative, clueless, nonsupportive angle wasn't spin at all, but instead accurately reflects the spirit in which the comments were offered? Every single quote from the man is as insensitive and wrong headed (and yes, hilarious) as the last one.
- "If I really called the shots we wouldn't have signed Gomes and what's the other guy's name?"
- "I really like [Del Negro] but then I guess I've said that every time I've hired a new coach" (this offered with VDN standing across from him)
- "We had a chance to trade [DAndre Jordan] for a No. 1 pick. My people didn't want to do that. I would have"
- "I like the way I look [in newspaper ads]"
Of course, Sterling is also in the news this summer for the fact the Clippers are embroiled in a law suit with former coach and general manager Sr. (not to mention STILL embroiled in a law suit with former GM Elgin Baylor). All of which underscores the final question in Kevin's post. Given how the boss talks about his current employees, and how he treats his former employees: