Friday, May 2, 2014

The Evil that is Donald Sterling


Donald Sterling is a bad man — a very, very bad man.

The fact that the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers pro basketball team is an out and out racist is undeniable. His taped conversation with his girlfriend was only the latest example. Back in the early 1990s, Sterling’s insurance company shelled out $2.75 million to settle a racial discrimination suit filed against him by the Justice Department involving some of the apartment properties Sterling owns in Los Angeles.

Former Clippers employee and Los Angeles Lakers legend Elgin Baylor filed a racial and age discrimination suit against Sterling claiming the owner had "a plantation mentality" and thought of the Clippers players as "poor black boys from the South playing for a white coach." The suit further claimed that after home games Sterling would take guests into the Clippers’ locker room so the guests could check out his players’ "beautiful black bodies."

But Sterling’s "badness" goes deeper than his racism. Who are the most despicable people on earth? That’s right — divorce lawyers. OK, perhaps the attorney who represented you in when you split with the spouse might have been an alright person during daylight hours but you also know that shark that represented your spouse was — on the evolutionary scale — one step below pond scum.

So now I’m talking about a guy who was born Donny Tokowitz in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles who made his bones as a — you guessed it — not only a divorce lawyer, but a personal injury shyster as well.

He used the sums he amassed in these nefarious pursuits to purchase real estate all over Los Angeles. And he never sold any of it. In 1981, he shelled out $12.5 million to purchase the San Diego Clippers, which had moved to the Southern California city from Buffalo three years earlier. During his time in San Diego, his players claimed they would receive their paychecks after the banks closed on Fridays, presumably to keep them from bouncing.

In 1984, he abruptly moved the team to Los Angeles without the NBA’s permission and got slapped with a $25 million fine from the league for doing it. And not only did he decide not to share the Forum, the then home court of the Lakers, with the older LA NBA franchise, he forced the Clippers to play in the decrepit Los Angeles Sports Arena and made a nice profit from a lousy team because of his sweetheart lease deal.

Like I said at the beginning: Donald Sterling is a bad man.

By now, anyone who’s over the age of 7 and breathing the air of this country knows that this week that taped conversation I referred to earlier — in which he implored his girlfriend to quit posting pictures on public forums of herself with black athletes and, while he was on the subject, to quit bringing blacks to see Clippers’ games — has resulted in Sterling being banned from the Clippers and the NBA for life. Not only that, the league’s other 29 owners seemed determined to make sure Sterling doesn’t own the Clippers for too much longer.

Most everyone I’ve talked to or have heard talking about this seems to believe it’d karma — Donald Sterling is finally getting just what he deserved.

However, my very intelligent South Florida correspondent smells a rat in all this. He presents an extremely well reasoned argument that Sterling has been wanting to sell the team for a while and what he’s doing now is driving up the price of the team by producing all this publicity surrounding it. Why else, Mr. Howard Schulman claims, would he freely admit that "Yes, that is my voice on that tape and those are my views"? Why else, he argues, would Sterling not dispute the fact that private conversations should remain private and not cause punitive judgments if and when they become public. And, it appears, his tactic is working. The proof of that, according to Mr. Schulman, is the fact that mega-buck folks such as Oprah Winfrey and David Geffen, both of whom could probably pay for the team by collecting the cash they could find by removing the cushions of their respective living room couches, are among those interested in shelling out the $1 billion or more I’ve heard it will take to puchase the Clippers. But I don’t want to put words into the great Mr. Schulman’s mouth. You can read it all for yourself here.

Now, as reasoned and as well articulated as Mr. Schulman’s arguments are, I am going to take exactly the opposite point of view. Why? Because, as I’ve said twice now: Donald Sterling is a bad man — a very, very bad man. I also said that Sterling made his bones as a divorce lawyer.

Unlike most in the legal profession who seem to want to achieve justice, divorce lawyers want nothing of the kind, Divorce lawyers want revenge — regardless of the monetary or emotional cost. And when someone lashes out at Donald Sterling, he lashes right back with double or triple the intensity.

Remember, he didn’t lose that racial discrimination suit against the Justice Department. He also emerged victorious in the Baylor affair. When the NBA slapped that $25 million fine on him for moving the Clippers without permission, he simply countersued. The case dragged on for three years and in 1987 Sterling wound up paying a fine $6 million, less than a fourth of the original judgment.

Right now Donald Sterling is a bitter old man plotting ways to get even with an NBA and fellow team owners he is convinced have done him wrong. And here’s how he’s going to do it: He’s going to file for divorce from his long-suffering wife Rochelle. And when that happens, everything else grinds to a halt.

The team, you see, is not owned by Sterling per se, but a Sterling family trust that includes Rochelle. Such a divorce filing would put the jurisdiction of the team into the multi-layered California’s family court, while both sides decide how to divide the community property, Agreement on those decisions could take years, perhaps not even in Donald Sterling’s lifetime.

According to Sharon Kalemkiarian, a California family law specialist: "If somebody is looking for a litigation strategy, and they want to slow down a forced sale by the league, you file for divorce so you get more people involved arguing over it. Everybody's got to spend more money trying to figure out what happens to it. Getting the family court involved in it would create another layer of complexity to the sale and another set of lawyers who would be trying stop it from getting sold."

So what happens to the Clippers in the process? Coach Doc Rivers will absolutely refuse to participate in any actions that would put more money in Sterling’s pockets and, as a result, will resign before the start of the 2014-15 season. Premier players such as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Matt Barnes will feel the same way and demand the league declare them to be free agents, a demand to which the NBA will undoubtedly honor. And quickly the value of the team plummets, down to the point where, when and if the dust settles, the only person who will want to purchase it is another divorce lawyer. Still, the selling price will be more than the $12.5 million Sterling paid for it, so he still makes a profit.

And when that happens, if he does happen to be among those still living on this planet, Donald Sterling — that very, very bad man — will prominently display his middle finger to NBA Commisioner Adam Silver, the NBA, and the other league owners, and walk off into the sunset with a huge smile on that very, very bad face.

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