Former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racism towards African-Americans is well-documented. In 2014, the NBA banned him for life and forced him to sell the team to Steve Ballmer after tapes surfaced in which he told then-girlfriend V. Stiviano that he did not like her associating with African-Americans following a photo she took with Magic Johnson.
Less-known and significantly less destructive, however, are his prejudices towards white people, which came out only in the context of his basketball team. When former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor sued Sterling, he alleged that the owner had a “southern plantation” vision for his franchise.
From The Los Angeles Times:
“In the original lawsuit, Baylor said that Sterling had a “vision of a Southern plantation-type structure” for the Clippers and accused the owner of a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude” during long-ago contract negotiations with Danny Manning. The lawsuit also quoted Sterling as telling Manning’s agent, “I’m offering you a lot of money for a poor black kid.”
Baylor alleged Sterling said he wanted the Clippers to be ‘composed of ‘poor black boys from the South’ and a white head coach.”
In other words, Sterling did not want white players on his roster. This vision came into conflict with the reality of his team in 2013. In June of that summer, he made the surprising decision to not only sign the African-American Doc Rivers as his head coach and president of basketball operations, but he gave up a first-round pick for the privilege. This move was already in conflict with Sterling’s racist ideals, but Rivers pushed them even further with his first major move for the Clippers.
Rivers planned to send backup point guard Eric Bledsoe and veteran forward Caron Butler to the Phoenix Suns. Phoenix would send multiple draft picks to the Milwaukee Bucks, who would send two players to Los Angeles. The first, Jared Dudley, posed no issues. The second, JJ Redick, would.
Redick was set to join the Clippers through a sign-and-trade arrangement that would pay him $27 million over four years. The only problem? As Rivers explained to Ernie Johnson on #NBATOGETHER, Sterling did not want a white player, and he had to threaten to quit to push the deal through. The story was transcribed by Kurt Helin of NBC Sports.
“I think he was going to sign with Minnesota, I literally talk JJ out of it, ‘Come play with me. Come play with the Clippers with Chris Paul and DJ and Blake [Griffin], you’d be a great fit.’… The free agent signing is done, JJ agrees, I jump on a plane, I fly back to Orlando, and I get a call from Andy Roeser, and he says, ‘the deal’s off.’ I say, ‘what do you mean the deal’s off?’
“‘Donald doesn’t like white players.'”
“I said, ‘excuse me?’ ‘Donald Sterling said no.’ I said, ‘well, we’ve already agreed.’ I’m in the garage at the Orlando Airport, Ernie, I get a call from Coach K, who is upset because of JJ I get a call from JJ’s agent, I think it was Arn Tellem [Ed. note: It was] who screaming at me.
“So I call Donald Sterling, and I think this was three weeks to a month into the job, I’m not sure but right in that area, me and Donald are having a ‘conversation.’ It made [a screaming, cussing argument with Doc’s then coach Pat Riley years before] look meek. So, by the very end of the conversation, I quit. I said, “Well, I quit’ [Immitating a screaming Sterling] ‘You’re not gonna quit.’ ‘I quit.’ ‘You’re not gonna quit.’…
“I said, ‘I’m not gonna let you ruin my reputation. Not gonna happen. It will never happen.’ And Donald goes in, ‘Oh, just trust me, I have this great reputation around the league.’ And I was screaming, ‘No, I have the reputation around the league, you don’t. I will not coach another day if this deal doesn’t go through.’ I hang up, and I remember going home and telling Chris [Paul], ‘I think I don’t have a job.’…
“Three hours later I get a call from Andy Roeser who says, ‘Hey man, deal’s done, Donald’s all in.’ Didn’t say why, didn’t say anything, just he changed his mind.”
Redick has spoken about the incident on several occasions. When he first addressed it in 2014, he revealed that he had heard multiple versions of the story from Sterling’s end, with some suggesting that Sterling simply didn’t want a white player, while others indicated that price was the issue, and that Sterling didn’t want to pay someone he perceived as a white bench player $27 million.
“I’ve been told both ways,” Redick told The Los Angeles Times. “One, that he didn’t want to spend because I was white and the other he didn’t want to pay me because he thought I was a bench player. I was told both things.”
On Monday, he revealed on Twitter that he didn’t even know this was happening at the time. His agents weren’t answering calls until, 48 hours after the initial agreement, they confirmed that he would be a Clipper.
While Sterling’s distaste for white players was clear by that point, it should be noted that Redick hardly would have been the first that he had ever employed. While there were no other white American players on the 2013-14 Clippers, their roster did include Europeans Hedo Turkoglu and Sasha Vujacic. Former No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin was biracial, and two very high Clippers draft picks, Danny Ferry at No. 2 overall and Chris Kaman at No. 6, were white. Kaman was the last white player on the Clippers at that point, having left in 2011.
The moment itself is yet another feather in the cap of Sterling’s racism. For a few days in 2013, he held four players and three teams hostage over nothing more than his own prejudice. The story ends about as happily as something like this could. Redick got his money. Sterling was brought to justice, at least for his NBA-specific offenses. Rivers’ sterling reputation remained intact. But even after the fact, it is startling to think that such a thing nearly happened only seven years ago. As progressive a league as the NBA has become, its less savory past has not yet escaped the rearview mirror.