LOS ANGELES -- Donald Sterling was the same old Donald Sterling on the witness stand Tuesday, which is probably the worst thing that could have happened to Donald Sterling.
Sterling's behavior during his contentious testimony was both entertaining and sad. It drew laughter from the spectators in the sweltering, standing-room-only courtroom and tears from his wife, Shelly Sterling, who was seated behind her attorneys.
It was the same Sterling many had seen in the past during his infamous depositions. He was defensive, combative, and at times, confused. He was constantly firing shots at attorney Bert Fields, questioning him and trying to control the proceedings from the moment he took the stand.
For years, it was the kind of behavior that was chalked up to Sterling being an eccentric man with a penchant for saying and doing things he shouldn't. It was a big reason Sterling never did any media interviews until his notorious sit-down with CNN's Anderson Cooper two months ago, during which he went from apologizing for his racist remarks to attacking Magic Johnson.
The problem for Sterling is his behavior is no longer a secret. His racist rants, his outbursts and his inability to remember things he said moments ago are no longer the secret of his inner circle that was guarding him from the public. They are now on display for everyone to see, as Tuesday's testimony reinforced.
While he was on the stand, Sterling repeatedly attacked Fields by calling him a "smart-ass," telling him to "stand up and be a man," saying he was a "weird lawyer" and asking for his name on more than two occasions. Perhaps it was a tactic that worked for Sterling in previous depositions, but with the spotlight on him in a trial largely centering on his mental competence, it wasn't the most opportune time to go off the rails.
But that's Sterling. He is who he is, and he can't help himself. When he sat down for that interview with CNN with the sole purpose of offering up a tearful apology and asking for forgiveness, he couldn't stop himself from attacking Johnson and saying African-Americans don't help out their communities the way Jews do.
When Sterling was asked Tuesday about being examined by Dr. James Spar and Dr. Meril Platzer, the two doctors who found him to be mentally incapacitated, he said the former sneaked into his den to perform the test, while the latter was intoxicated and suggested they get drinks in the middle of the exam. It was an odd defense that reinforced their findings more than anything else.
Sterling’s testimony included a claim that he would win a $9 billion antitrust lawsuit against the NBA, even though the league has been indemnified by his wife against any legal action he might bring. He also said he could sell the Clippers for anywhere between $2.5 billion and $5 billion. Steve Ballmer's current $2 billion bid to buy the Clippers is the most ever for a professional sports franchise that does not include real estate, and nearly four times what any NBA franchise has ever sold for. It beats David Geffen's next best bid by almost half a billion dollars. The odds of Sterling finding someone new to bid a billion more than Geffen or more than twice Ballmer's record price -- after he continues to drag the team through the mud -- are slim to none.
Sterling also mentioned the $3 billion cable television deal the Los Angeles Lakers made with Time Warner and said the Clippers could get a comparable deal when their current contract with Fox Sports is up, even though the Lakers earn about four times the ratings of the Clippers and have enough cache to launch their own English and Spanish regional sports networks, something media critics doubt the Clippers could pull off. Even the Los Angeles Dodgers, who can actually claim to rival the Lakers in popularity, are finding it hard to pull off.
Throughout his testimony, Sterling said he loved his wife but concluded she wasn't capable of running any of his businesses. "My wife, she's beautiful," he said. "But she cannot run anything."
The truth is Shelly saw the writing on the wall and made the best business decision either of them has ever made. Just as the NBA was ready to seize the team, put it up for auction and remove the Sterlings from the equation, she orchestrated the record sale of the team. It's a sale that enabled her to control the terms and still be connected to the team.
It's a deal Donald would have taken in a heartbeat had it been offered to him, but it wasn't, and that's why he's fighting back.
It's just another example of Donald being Donald, which never ends up being a good thing for Donald.