Donald Sterling Had More Than 1 Big NBA Controversy

Nearly all NBA fans are aware of the Donald Sterling incident. In 2014, the former owner of the LA Clippers was banned by the league. Sterling was recorded saying incredibly racist comments to one of his mistresses, and a media frenzy ensued. 

Since the scandal and subsequent ban, the NBA has done everything in its power to move away from Sterling’s legacy. However, what most people do not realize is Sterling has a long list of scandals in the league, dating back to when he first bought the Clippers in 1981.

San Diego Clippers

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and wife
Clippers owner Donald Sterling and wife | Kirby Lee/WireImage

In 1981, Sterling was a successful real-estate mogul who bought the San Diego Clippers for $13.5 million. The controversy started almost immediately. Just one year later, Sterling wanted to move the team to Los Angeles. Sterling’s move prompted the league to commence an investigation.

Despite the backlash from residents and subsequent investigation, Sterling ultimately moved the team to LA in 1984 anyway, leaving many San Diego fans irate. Sterling’s time in San Diego can be optimized by one event. In 1982, Sterling held a free throw contest.

If a contestant made 9-10 shots, they got $500. Well, a fan made 9-10 shots, then Sterling offered him a double or nothing. He made the next shot, earning $1,000. However, Sterling, a billionaire, never paid him the money, leading to the fan suing for the incident.

Donald Sterling’s move to LA

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When Sterling moved the Clippers to LA in 1984, despite not having approval from the NBA, he sought to make Clippers and Lakers a perennial NBA rivalry. However, that was anything but the case. Throughout the ’80s, reports Deadspin, the Clippers had the illustrious honor of being deemed the worst team in the NBA.

The Clippers did not have a winning season until 1991. And their 12-70 campaign in ’87 was the second-worst NBA season in league history, behind the ’73 Sixers. All the while the Clippers were the NBA’s doormat, the Lakers won three championships.

The tandem of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson cemented themselves into NBA legacy. Not to mention, they lifted the Lakers to Dynasty status. While Sterling envisioned an in-town rivalry, it was the Lakers and Celtics rivalry that dominated the NBA. If the ’80s proved anything, LA was Lakers town.

Sterling’s subsequent scandals and legacy


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In ’82, the NBA fined Sterling $10,000 when he admitted he would tank to receive a high draft pick, which was the largest fine to any NBA owner at the time. And following the abysmal ’87 season, the Clippers selected Danny Manning No. 1 overall. After the draft, Sterling was quoted, “I’m offering a lot of money to a poor black kid.” His Manning quote was only the beginning of Sterling’s egregious racist remarks.

Former Clippers GM, Elgin Baylor, was cited saying, Sterling would regularly invite women into the locker room and point out the black players. Baylor quoted him saying to the women, “look at those beautiful black bodies.” And when Blake Griffin was selected No. 1 overall by the Clippers in 2009, he indicated that Sterling would parade him around white parties.

Outside of the NBA, Sterling’s housing employee sued him for saying multiple racial comments. One quote his employees cite Sterling saying include, “black people smell and attract vermin,” according to the LA Times.

Sterling also received a lawsuit in ’96 for sexual harassment by one of his property managers. She indicates that Sterling repeatedly offered her money for sex, and wanted her to recruit sex partners for him when she declined. If Sterling’s ban and previous scandals tell us anything, it is the NBA is far better off without someone like him.