As the Washington Wizards have struggled, it has been popular among some circles, to compare them to the Los Angeles Clippers. Some, in fact, have even gone as far as to refer to them as some variation of the “Clippers-east.” It is true that the Wizards have only made it to the playoffs five of the last 20 seasons. And they have made it beyond the first round only once during that stretch. (Well if you are counting the Clippers have made it to the post-season four times during that same period, and also made it out of the first round once.)
It is common to talk about the poor decisions that were made under the leadership of the former owner Mr. Abe Pollin. I would humbly point out that, while I never met him, he appeared to be loyal to a fault. Mr. Pollin put faith in his management team and let them run the day-to-day operations. So while it is fair to question the decisions that were made and the qualifications of those making decisions, Mr. Pollin’s love for the city or his team cannot be questioned.
So while the two franchises may have struggled similarly in recent history – the last I checked the Clippers do not have a championship banner hanging from the rafters – they share little in common because of ownership. No organization will be as bad as the Los Angeles Clippers; owner Donald Sterling is personally seeing to that.
What owner of a major sports franchise would sit next to the field of play and heckle his employees? Well, reportedly, Donald Sterling would. According to a report by Yahoo! Sports columnist Marc Spears, Sterling has said the following to PG Baron Davis:
“Why are you in the game?”
“Why did you take that shot?”
“You’re out of shape!”
Over the last couple of seasons, his heckling has not been limited to Baron Davis. He has also reportedly heckled Chris Kaman and former Clippers Bobby Brown and Mardy Collins. And according to the same Marc Spears article he went as far as to make “a rare visit to the locker room and [launch] into a tirade, calling former Clippers [current Washington Wizards] forward Al Thornton selfish.”
If the reports are true, it would seem clear that Sterling – at a minimum – wants to make Davis’ life miserable, possibly in the hope that he would quit. That strategy is problematic given the existence of a little thing called a contract that has guaranteed money. In theory, there might be some financial benefit for Sterling if Davis did quit, but why on earth would Davis do that and leave money on the table? Conversely, if Sterling is truly unhappy with his performance he could always facilitate a trade or ultimately cut him. Both decisions though have their own potential financial impact on the organization that surely he would like to avoid. So instead he responds by acting like a spoiled child.
However, if this was the normal business environment and not sports, Sterling’s supposed behavior would be opening the door for a potential lawsuit. According to these reports, he is creating a hostile work environment. Nevertheless, it is highly unlikely that Davis or his representatives will pursue it, due in large part to the culture of sports.
However, that should not stop David Stern and the NBA from stepping in and investigating the claims. Players routinely face “abusive” comments from fans. And on some level, and within reason, that goes with the territory. But an employee, whether you are an athlete or not, should never have to deal with such abuse from your employer. This behavior would not be tolerated in other professions, and in fact there are laws protecting employees against it.
So, while the Wizards and Clippers may have had similar struggles over the last 20 years, Mr. Pollin would have never treated a player in this way. Nor does this type of behavior appear to be in the DNA of current majority owner Ted Leonsis. When all factors are the same, I believe a player will gravitate towards a quality owner. And this will further separate the two organizations over the long haul.
I understand that money motivates many of us, but moving forward if you are a NBA free agent, don’t the Clippers become the team that you sign with only when you have no other choice? Why would any person, who is not solely motivated by money, (and yes that is a very powerful motivator) want to play for Donald Sterling?