I write a blog about Los Angeles. Mostly, I cover the places and history that formed us. It is not a career for me, but I do it only because I love this city so much.
I also know a lot about sports. So much so, I used to cover it in a previous life. I try to keep my blog void of social or political commentary because I don’t strive to divide people any further. At the same time, I feel compelled to address this incident with Donald Sterling. Not just because it appalls me, but because it could be used as a focal point to bring us closer.
I don’t have anything new to comment on his taped conversation. We all know it’s wrong. It’s despicable. There’s no place for it in today’s society. The question at hand is what do we do?
To start, we all know Donald Sterling can’t own the Clippers anymore. Not even anyone from his family. Even if the NBA doesn’t have the power to remove him, Sterling knows he has to sell. Every moment he holds onto this franchise, he loses value. His corporate sponsorship will flee and so will the fans. Imagine if you’re a free agent? Would you take this blood money? What would be left of this franchise?
The league should assume control of the Clippers, a la New Orleans Hornets(now Pelicans). The NBA doesn’t have the power to do so, but the pressure will mount in the following weeks that it’ll eventually come to this. While there would be an endless supply of suitors, the process is going to take some time to complete. Think McCourt’s sale of the Dodgers.
You don’t have to be new to the sports scene to recognize how bad the Clipper franchise has been. Historically bad. Even if you factor in their recent success, they’ve won only 37% of their games in their thirty seasons in Los Angeles. And it isn’t only by accident. You can see the signs. He doesn’t respect people.
Under Sterling’s control, you could never truly say the Clippers were run bad because you questioned whether they were being run at all! They played in a sub-standard arena for many years with the bare essentials for amenities. Big name free agents would stay away and the ones that did come never seemed excited to be here. Their preparation was always a step behind because of Sterling’s reluctance to pay for a quality and quantity sized coaching staff. The team trained in gyms and health clubs until they got their own practice facility, eight years after the Lakers built one.
The list could go on. No matter how bad the team was run, they would still turn a profit with all the league revenue coming in. Even when moving to Staples Center in 1999 allowed a larger base of corporate dollars, the team continued to be a fixture in the NBA draft lottery. The Clippers had only one winning team in their first twelve seasons at the new arena, but were racking in much larger profits than the Sports Arena.
It wasn’t until Chris Paul’s arrival that the team’s fortunes began to change. With Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan’s development, the Clippers became not only a championship contender, but also the most exciting team in the league. Money was being spent on players, facilities and also acquired the highest paid coach in the NBA.
On the surface, it appeared like the Clippers were becoming basketball’s Camelot. Yet, no matter how good things were going, you could never completely buy-in because of Sterling’s history of decision making, questionable business practices and discrimination allegations. All that reared its ugly head last Friday.
No matter how this resolves itself, the Clippers will always mean Donald Sterling. He has been the only owner Los Angeles has known. You can remove the man, but not his legacy. In the same way you correlate the Celtics and Lakers with Red Auerbach and Jerry Buss, you have the exact opposite association for Sterling.
That’s why we must remove the Clipper name from this organization. This is an opportunity not only to rid us from the past, but to define a new future. To bring us more together. Let’s have a new team name that celebrates our city’s history, one we all can relate too.
My suggestion is to link the name with our rich black history. I may not have a name in mind, but looking into our past might generate some ideas. Honoring Jackie Robinson in some form is a good place to start. While it is known that he was a Pasadena native and UCLA student, few know he briefly played basketball for professionally integrated team. They were called the Los Angeles Red Devils which might serve as a proper name done right.
Central Avenue is a region that could be celebrated as it was known as the “Harlem of the West”. For the early half of of the 20th century,
this was the Jazz center of the city as many of the greats, such as Louis Armstrong, Billy Holiday, Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington, would play here. The Dunbar Hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as it used to house many of these musicians during the segregation era. Perhaps the name of the hotel or some of the artist’s names or musical styles could be incorporated into a new name.
We can also look further west to places like Leimert Park and the Crenshaw District to find inspiration. I always thought the Los Angeles Mavericks would have been a great name to honor the jazz club(Maverick’s Flat) if it wasn’t already taken. The possibilities are endless and I’m sure there are many that have better suggestions. I’m only trying to get the conversation started.
While finding the proper name might take some time, choosing the right one can have a sweeping effect on how the franchise is perceived. You can look towards the recent rebranding of the Nets colors and logo to see how quickly we’ve disassociated them from their New Jersey past. For the Clippers, I believe they can change their persona without relocating. They have to.
Los Angeles is a very separated place. Few things unite us, but sports tends to cross all lines. If you’ve ever attended a championship parade, you’ll notice people from every race, religion and neighborhood. That’s how easy it is to bring us together. Let’s not let Donald Sterling tear us apart.