PHOENIX — When Donald Sterling came to town this week, bringing his playoff basketball team with him, he sat down for lunch with Angel owner Arte Moreno, who lives here.
We can only hope, I guess, that Moreno was listening when it came time for Sterling to discuss what it takes to put together a winning team.
THAT'S RIGHT, the Laker season is over and Sterling is sitting courtside watching his Clippers compete in the second round of the playoffs, 11 wins away from winning the NBA title, and people scoff at my dream of one day running off with Salma Hayek.
There were some basketball seasons, most in fact, when it was clear before Christmas the Clippers would not be going to the playoffs, and now they will be returning to Staples Center to play before an adoring sellout crowd Friday night.
Obviously, anything is possible, that list growing with Sterling saying Wednesday night he will spend whatever it takes to keep this going, including a promise to sign Coach Mike Dunleavy to a new contract that will cost Sterling plenty.
"Dunleavy to me is like Elton Brand," Sterling said, "and I think that should answer your question."
Of course, Brand had to go to Miami, sign an offer sheet and set his value on the open market before the Clippers matched it, but Sterling did match it, which was the first sign these weren't your same Clippers.
What about re-signing Sam Cassell, Vladimir Radmanovic and adding any free agents that might catch Dunleavy's eye?
"I probably have the only franchise that has no debt service," Sterling said. "There is no shortage of money, and I'm 100% behind whatever my people want me to do." \o7Clip and save.\f7
WE ARE approaching miracle territory.
"I'm a lawyer; it's easy. I'm an investor; it's easy," Sterling said. "I'd characterize sports as virtually impossible."
For the longest time he proved just that, but how would you like to go to work today, explaining to friends that your beloved Suns were just crushed by the Clippers? Two more wins in L.A., and you have another Laker scenario, although I don't think we'll ever see Brand tank it with everything on the line.
"The coach feels this is just the beginning and we have a very bright future," Sterling said. "A lot of owners want to take credit for the success of their franchise, but I want to make it clear this has nothing to do with me."
I told him I had no problem believing that, and he grinned, the same grin he offers when he talks about the brilliance of good friend Al Davis, and I disagree.
"This has been achieved on the back of our coach, GM and players," said Sterling, who refers to Dunleavy as the "General," and says the General has an aura about him that suggests, "you just can't deny whatever he wants.
"When he wanted Kobe Bryant, when he wanted Ron Artest and Gilbert Arenas, we never discussed salary. I said, 'Go get them,' and by the way, the coach told me we had them," Sterling said with a little laugh. The General doesn't win every battle.
It has always been an interesting penthouse-outhouse contrast when it comes to Sterling, so successful in business, so unsuccessful as a basketball team owner. Sterling owns 126 buildings, many in Beverly Hills, and likes to say he has never sold anything.
But things are changing, the Clippers are not only winning, but this week Sterling has been in negotiations with, among other people, Donald Trump, to sell one of his buildings. "I haven't sold it yet," he insisted.
Sterling and I have had a running argument. I believe most people consider the Clippers the worst franchise in sports.
"I wish somebody would tell me what good player we didn't sign who went on to have a great career somewhere else," Sterling said. "I believe in paying superstar prices for superstar players, but don't believe in paying superstar prices to journeymen players."
A few years back in an interview with The Times, Sterling said he would pay the maximum going rate to keep Brand and Corey Maggette, and although not many believed him -- including Brand and Maggette -- Sterling kept his word. This season he signed Cuttino Mobley to a $42-million deal.
"I don't believe anybody is in this business to make money," he said. "We do make a lot because we're fortunate to be in the L.A. market. But the paramount thing is winning, and I want to win it all."
I'm a big believer, of course, because when the day comes that he's on the podium waiting for David Stern to hand him the Larry O'Brien Trophy, I'll be there too, standing right alongside Salma.
DUNLEAVY JOINED the media for dinner Tuesday night and tried to convince me players get more motivated if the opposition provides bulletin board material. I disagreed, but then former Laker Cedric Ceballos, who acts as an on-court cheerleader here with microphone in hand, told the hometown fans as the Clippers took the court, "There's no way possible we're leaving this building not up 2-0." Apparently, the Clippers were listening.
TODAY'S LAST word comes in e-mail from Rachel Gage:
\o7 "You are obviously one of these bias -- on \f7Shaq's\o7 side -- writers responsible for stiffing \f7Kobe\o7 out of this year's MVP trophy. It's simply your opinion Kobe quit, yet you write as if you know it to be a fact. You should be ashamed of yourself. Better yet -- fired. Here's a fact for you, you're an idiot."
\f7 From what people tell me, at least I've never quit being one.
\o7T.J. Simers can be reached at
email@example.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.