Donald Sterling was forced to sell the Clippers after a recording making his racist rant public was released. Sterling was mad at his girlfriend for bringing African-Americans to Clipper games, and also mentioned Magic Johnson in his tirade. We now learned Sterling was racist towards African-American people, and caucasian NBA players.
Doc Rivers was on the job for a few weeks when he convinced JJ Redick to come to play for the Clippers. Rivers was actually traded from Boston to LA and became the coach and GM of the Clippers. The team didn’t have a good reputation, so Rivers managed to get full control to gain some credibility for the team. Redick was going to sign with Minnesota, but Doc managed to talk him out of it and get the sharpshooter to join the Clippers. Going back to Orlando, Rivers got an unexpected phone call.
“The signing is done, JJ agrees, I jump on a plane and fly back to Orlando, and I get a call from Andy Roeser [team president]. Says ‘Hey, the deal is off.’ I say, ‘What do you mean, the deal is off.’ He says ‘Donald doesn’t like white players.’”
Doc Rivers, NBA on TNT
Sterling had a racist reputation, but Rivers didn’t expect a situation like this with a white player. The GM in him took over, and Rivers’ first got mad about the owner canceling a deal he had already sealed. Several calls ensued, from Coach K (Redick’s college coach) to Arm Tellem (Redick’s agent), all sharing their disappointment in all levels of volume and choice of words ratings.
After those were done, Doc called Sterling and had a conversation that “made the Pat Riley conversation look meek.” When it was done, Rivers wasn’t sure if he quit his job, was he fired or something else, but he was convinced his career with the Clippers was done after only three weeks. Three hours later, Andy Roeser called Doc to let him know the deal is done, and JJ is a Clipper. He got the player, and the Clippers honored the agreement, but Doc knew he was in trouble.
Just when we thought Donald Sterling couldn’t surprise us anymore, a story like this pops out. If you are interested in the full chronology of the Sterling era, I recommend Ramona Shelbourne’s podcast on the “30 for 30” feed. There are a lot of shocking moments in the podcast, but hearing Doc’s story makes me think about an economic concept - the greater fool theory.
The greater fool is someone with a perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed. In NBA terms, anyone who took a job with the Clippers in the Sterling era was the greater fool. There was a long history of terrible ownership decisions there, but people thought they could make a difference. For Doc, getting the GM role made him feel like he was in power. He went against everything he knew about Sterling and the Clippers, believing things would change. Three weeks in, he found out they didn’t.
The current favorite for the greater fool award would probably be Leon Rose - the new Knicks GM. Working for James Dolan requires a level of confidence that you could define as self-delusional. As is always with the greater fool, the odds may be against them, but if they succeed, eternal glory awaits.