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The Clippers are Getting Coverage in the Newspaper

For a very bad reason, the Clippers are all over the LA papers today.

Is it just me, or are the supposedly explosive allegations in Elgin Baylor's lawsuit against Donald Sterling, Andy Roeser, the Clippers and the NBA, decidedly unexplosive?

Donald Sterling is probably a racist.  He's definitely a jerk.  But I have neither seen nor heard anything in this lawsuit that shocks or surprises me.  Actually, that's not true - I am a tad surprised that in 22 years of being around the man, Elgin doesn't have any better dirt than this.

Let's look at a few of the items that seem to be the most charged, at least considering the way they are being covered in the press.

  • Sterling said of Danny Manning, "I'm offering a lot of money for a poor black kid."  Well, he was offering a lot of money.  And Danny Manning is black.  It's not the most sensitive thing that anyone's ever said, but I think we're all in agreement that Sterling is a jerk.  I find it interesting to note that Danny Manning's father Ed was a professional basketball player for over a decade, and a basketball coach after that.  Basketball players didn't make nearly as much in the 70s as they do now, but I would hesitate to call Danny Manning poor as compared to many of his peers. 
  • Sterling said he wanted his team to be made up of "poor black boys from the South and a white head coach."  So, is he discriminating against black coaches, or white players?  Or maybe he's all about charity - he only wants the truly poor on his team, because they need his help the most.  It's a dumb thing to say, it makes very little sense, and I'm not sure what Sterling's fascination is with southerners - where they tend to play a lot of football, by the way.  But it's more a head scratcher than a racist bombshell.  It's also worth noting that in these types of suits, actions often speak louder than words.  If a company has a non-discrimination policy and talks a great game, but can be shown to be using discriminatory hiring practices, that company would be liable.  In this case, it would seem at worst the opposite is true - Baylor is trying to make a case that Sterling said discriminatory things, even though his actual hiring practices appear to be quite diverse.  In the 28 years that Sterling has owned the Clippers, they have employed four different African-American head coaches (Paul Silas, Don Chaney, Alvin Gentry and Dennis Johnson) for all or part of 8 NBA seasons.  I'd venture to guess that it is among the highest number of African-American coaches, and an above average number of years, of any NBA franchise during that time period.  The Lakers, for instance, had one African American head coach on an interim basis (Magic Johnson for 16 games) during the same 28 year period.  So, if indeed Sterling wanted "poor black boys from the South and a white head coach" then like almost everything else associated with the Clippers, he screwed that up.  Hell, he's also had lots of white guys on the team.  Eric Piatkowski is about as white as it gets - but he is from the south... South Dakota.
  • How about the claim that Sterling envisions the organization as "a Southern plantation-type structure?"  Well, I'm not even sure what that means.  But at any rate it's just talk.  There's not even an allegation that Sterling said anything like this.  The suit is imagining what is inside of Sterling's head, which might be frightening indeed. 

Interestingly, in reading over the actual complaint (hat tip to Citizen Jax for posting the link), there is one allegation that seems quite troubling if it could be proven:

58.  During his tenure, Mr. BAYLOR noticed disparity in the CLIPPERS' willingness to fairly compensate players in an effort to retain them, which divided along racial lines.

But the suit offers no examples of this so-called disparity.  As we've discussed many times, the Clippers have a very short history of re-signing their own free agents, and until 2005 they never signed a single external free agent of significance.  Which means that for a large majority of the years that Baylor was with the team they signed their draft picks and fringe players who likely had no other offers.  It doesn't sound racist - it sounds cheap.  For decades, Loy Vaught (black) and Eric Piatkowski (white) were the only two free agents to ever re-sign with the club.  They were later followed by Elton Brand (black), Corey Maggette (black), Sam Cassell (black) and Chris Kaman (white).  Significant external free agents to sign with the Clippers have all been black - Cuttino Mobley, Tim Thomas, Baron Davis, Ricky Davis.  So unless someone can make a compelling case that Piatkowski and Kaman were significantly overpaid, compensation does not appear to 'divide along racial lines.' 

(It's also amusingly illogical to suggest that Sterling was willing to pay more for white players.  Doesn't the suit state that he specifically wanted 'poor black players?'  Why is he paying more to white players?)

I'll no doubt have more to say on this law suit over the next week or so.  It's quite unfortunate on many levels.  As Bill Plaschke points out in his column today, no one looks good in this one.  Baylor has been a laughing stock for years, and now he's asking everyone to review just how much of a laughing stock he was.  He's likely just trying to embarass Sterling and the NBA, which is easy enough to do.  In contrast to the very tame allegations in Baylor's lawsuit, we're also going to hear about all the things Sterling has allegedly done in his real estate business.  Like saying that "Black tenants smell and attract vermin."  Now THAT'S some good racism. 

One last quirky observation.  The Clippers counsel put out a statement on Wednesday when the news of the lawsuit broke.  It snidely criticized Baylor's tenure, pointing out how loyal the Clippers were to continue to employ Baylor for 22 years despite so little success for the team. 

It's hard to believe that he would now make these ridiculous claims after the organization stood by him during 22 years and only three playoff appearances. It would be hard to find any sports team that has demonstrated greater loyalty to its General Manager.

Notice anything about that statement?  The Clippers have made the playoffs FOUR times in the last 22 years, not three times.  What an organization.  They can't even get their story straight in a memo from their lawyers.