Sterling litigation could cause 'death spiral'

LOS ANGELES -- It sounded more like the title of a horror film than a projection for next season.

As Dick Parsons, the interim CEO of the Los Angeles Clippers, testified in state court Tuesday about the uncertain future of the team, he outlined an accelerated "death spiral" for the Clippers if Donald Sterling were to remain the owner.

"If none of your sponsors want to sponsor you," Parsons said. "And your coach doesn't want to coach for you and your players don’t want to play for you, what do you have?"

Parsons wasn’t just hypothesizing about losing sponsors, coaches and players if Sterling remained the owner. He testified that he has talked to many of the parties involved and they have told him their commitment to the team is only as strong as the team’s commitment to moving forward without Sterling.

"We're in so long as Donald Sterling is out," Parsons said when describing his conversation with several sponsors that have yet to commit to the team for the upcoming season.

But it was Parsons' testimony about Doc Rivers, the Clippers' coach and president of basketball operations, that raised the most eyebrows inside the packed courtroom on the second floor of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse.

"Doc is as troubled by this as anybody, and maybe more so," Parsons said. "He has told me that if Mr. Sterling continues to own the team, he doesn’t think he wants to continue as coach."

Rivers isn’t just the team’s coach and president; he’s its heart and soul. He is the calming presence that kept the team afloat when it was rocked by the tsunami that was the Sterling controversy during the playoffs. He not only did his best to shield his players from outside distractions, but he also put his arms around tearful employees and told everyone in the organization -- players to receptionists -- to call him with any problems.

He didn’t come to Los Angeles to be the team’s leader, but when it needed one, he stepped up to the challenge.

And now, because Sterling is hell-bent on killing the record $2 billion sale of the Clippers to Steve Ballmer for reasons that escape everyone not on his payroll in court, he is trying to destroy the team by running off the man seemingly holding it up.

"If Doc were to leave, that would be a disaster," Parsons said. "Doc is the father figure of the team. Chris [Paul] is the on-court captain of the team, but Doc is really the guy who leads the effort. He’s the coach, the grown-up, he’s a man of character and ability -- not just in a basketball sense, but in the ability to connect with people and gain their trust. The team believes in him and admires and loves him. If he were to bail, with all the other circumstances, it would accelerate the death spiral."

The "death spiral" became the catchphrase of the day for Parsons and the attorneys representing Shelly Sterling and Ballmer, but it wasn’t hyperbole. In fact, Donald Sterling effectively pulled the plug to accelerate the “death spiral” later Tuesday afternoon when he filed a suit in Superior Court seeking damages from the NBA, commissioner Adam Silver, Shelly Sterling and the Clippers, alleging they violated corporate law in attempting to sell the franchise to Ballmer.

"I think you're looking at some time into the future," Sterling’s attorney Bobby Samini said when asked when Tuesday's lawsuit could be resolved. "Could you get to trial in six to eight months? In a perfect world, it's possible, but you're looking at a year or so before you have a trial on that issue.

"I don’t think you can have the sale of the team, which is owned by [a] corporation, until that issue is resolved. That’s got to be resolved first."

That’s right, on a day when the Clippers’ CEO testified on the urgent need to get a quick resolution to the Clippers ownership situation, Sterling filed a lawsuit that he hopes will tie up the ownership in litigation for months, or even years.

This isn’t about doing what’s right for the team or the fans or the city or even his own family. It never has been for Donald Sterling. He’s a petty billionaire who’s trying to take as many people as he can down with him because, well, he’s wealthy enough to do that to prove a point that really matters only to him.

"It’s not about the money. It’s not even about wanting the team," Samini said. "It’s showing everybody if I have a conversation in my living room that’s inappropriate, that’s not a good thing. I shouldn’t be awarded the man of the year award, but, at the same time, my private conversation -- and on top of that, my medical records -- shouldn’t be OK to release that to the world and use that to hang me with."

Nothing can be done to reverse what Sterling has said and done. This isn't about retracting the words and records that helped hang him, but a malicious attempt to destroy the Clippers and take the team down a "death spiral" that likely won’t end anytime soon.