The Clipper ship has been full of holes during the captaincy of Donald T. Sterling, a man who missed his calling when he purchased the San Diego Clippers in 1981. But then it wasn't Sterling's fault. The job as the San Diego Chicken already was taken.
About three weeks ago, Sterling held court in his office as a group of Clippers whined about the methods of Coach Don Casey. If Sterling and General Manager Elgin Baylor had any class, they would have shown the players the door, or something more drastic. Perhaps they could have taken away their pacifiers.
But they listened, and in the process undermined Casey to the point of no return. Sterling and Baylor already had sent a pointed message to the players by giving Casey a one-year contract. The message was: "We're not sure of this guy, so we're not going to commit to him." And when players understand that management does not support a coach enthusiastically, it's only a matter of time before mutiny develops.
The gist of the complaints from the players, who have not commented publicly on the meeting, were that Casey has made questionable decisions, did not have a good player rotation and talked behind players' backs. Casey adamantly denies charges of bad-mouthing, although he points out that if a player is not playing well and a coach says he is not playing well, is that being honest or two-faced?
The Clippers' best players are in their early or mid-20s: Ken Norman, Benoit Benjamin and Joe Wolf are 25, Charles Smith is 24 and Danny Manning is 23. It's understandable that they are frustrated. Yet anyone past the diaper years understands that the Clippers have been ravaged by injuries to starting guards Ron Harper, a sure All-Star before undergoing major knee injury Jan. 16, and Gary Grant, who suffered a broken ankle Feb. 2.
With a full complement of players, Casey directed the Clippers to an 18-19 record, which is the closest they had been to .500 that late in the season under Sterling's blockhead leadership. In their previous eight seasons with Sterling at the helm, the Clippers have a 185-471 record, a percentage of .282. Obviously, there have been no playoff appearances, although the boss has had high hopes. He once predicted a championship before the team went 17-65.
While it is true that some coaches deserve to be fired, nothing Casey has done suggests he should. What is evident is that some of the Clippers deserve to be spanked. Of the players on the active roster, reports in Los Angeles indicate only Benjamin did not attend that February meeting. The players who did do not understand two realities:
--If Casey is fired, Sterling is fully capable of hiring the biggest jerk in America. So life could be worse.
--Pouting to the point of forcing a man to lose his job is not exactly admirable behavior.
Of course, it is understandable why the baby Clippers have been crying. The environment encourages it. Sterling could have defused the situation by demonstrating commitment and loyalty to the coach. As usual, he is responsible for the Clippers' current mess.
Everybody has his favorite Donald Sterling story. There was the time he said it was his goal for the Clippers to lose as many games as possible so they could get the No. 1 pick in the draft (a statement that resulted in a $10,000 fine from the league). There was the time he ate a steak dinner at courtside. There was the time an Orange County group wanted to build an arena called the Westdome to entice the Clippers to move, but when asked about negotiations, Sterling said, "I don't know this Wes Dome fellow." There was the time the Clippers fired Don Chaney and when asked for reaction, Sterling said, "Oh, we did that? I didn't know that was going to happen today."
But a personal favorite occurred in Sterling's first full season as the Clippers' owner. Sterling held what was called "The First Annual New Year's Eve Luncheon." It was held Jan. 7.
The Nets held a news conference Saturday to enable embattled Charles Shackleford to make a statement. Perhaps the most impressive bit of information came from General Manager Harry Weltman, who said the Nets are opposed to point-shaving and drugs. That certainly was good to know. We would have been a little concerned had Weltman declared he was against only one.
Laker Coach Pat Riley is opposed to the new shot clock, which shows tenths of a second in the last minute of every quarter. Riley believes the Bulls were robbed in the Jan. 15 loss to the Knicks when Trent Tucker made the winning shot with one-tenth of a second left. "Everything was OK before," Riley said. "You give someone the benefit of the doubt. A judgment call is a judgment call with a second to go. With three-tenths of a second, it's not judgment. It's perfection. What else do you want? They're making it more confusing. I'm not criticizing that. I'm just saying it's created problems."
There have been some suggestions in Boston that the Celtics should trade Larry Bird, a suggestion Michael Jordan considers idiotic. "If they want to trade him," Jordan said, smiling, "we'll take him." Jordan was informed that even if the Celtics would trade Bird, it might be hard for the Bulls to get him because of the salary cap. "I'd take a cut," Jordan said. "I make enough money on outside stuff."
After the Bulls defeated the Celtics, 118-114, Sunday in Boston Garden, Jordan was asked if Bird looked like he had lost a step. Jordan had a puzzled look on his face and said, "He scored 38."