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Baylor sues Clippers, alleging racist attitude

He accuses owner of bad behavior for decades. Lawyer for team says

February 12, 2009|Lisa Dillman

NBA Hall of Famer and former longtime Clippers executive Elgin Baylor alleges in a civil lawsuit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles that team owner Donald Sterling has embraced a "vision of a Southern plantation-type structure" for his NBA franchise, accusing him of decades-long racist behavior.

Baylor worked for the Clippers for 22 years. The complaint against Sterling and others, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and obtained by The Times, presented Baylor's version of an eroding relationship between Baylor and Sterling. Baylor contends, among other things, that the Clippers owner had "a pervasive and ongoing racist attitude as expressed to then-NBA player Danny Manning during contract negotiations."

Asked about the nature of the allegations, Baylor's lawyer Carl Douglas said in a telephone interview that "everything in the lawsuit is factual. . . . It would not be in Mr. Baylor's best interest to disclose our trial strategy."

There is a news conference scheduled for this morning at Douglas' office in Beverly Hills.

Also named in the lawsuit was the team, the NBA and Clippers President Andy Roeser. Clippers officials said at their game against the Knicks on Wednesday they had not been served with the lawsuit.

"Not having seen the complaint, I cannot comment on Elgin's specific allegations," said Robert H. Platt, Clippers general counsel and partner at the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. "However, I can categorically state that the Clippers always treated Elgin fairly throughout his long tenure with the team. Prior to his decision to leave the team last October, Elgin never raised any claims of unfair treatment.

"It's hard to believe that he would now make these ridiculous claims after the organization stood by him for 22 years and only three playoff appearances. It would be hard to find any sports team that has demonstrated greater loyalty to its general manager. The team intends to vigorously defend itself against these false allegations and will prevail when all the facts are heard."

Sterling, after the Clippers' overtime victory, said, "Really? Against who?" when informed of the lawsuit, and expressed dismay at the development.

The suit alleged NBA Commissioner David Stern was present when Sterling allegedly said of Manning, "I'm offering a lot of money for a poor black kid." That tone was echoed in another alleged incident in which Baylor claimed Sterling told him that "he [Sterling] wanted the Clippers team to be composed of 'poor black boys from the South' and a white head coach."

Another part of the lawsuit dealt with Baylor's role in the organization. It alleged, as far back as 2004, Sterling and other club officials were employing "a campaign" to force Baylor into retirement -- using "ageist comments" and "repeatedly hassling" him about quitting.

Baylor also maintains his efforts went unrewarded when the Clippers made a postseason run in 2006.

The Clippers general counsel Platt, disputed that, saying Baylor asked for a playoff share in 2006 and "we gave it to him."

The suit alleges "the Caucasian head coach was given a four-year, $22-million contract," but Baylor's salary "has been frozen at a comparatively paltry $350,000 since 2003."

That coach would be Mike Dunleavy, who also replaced Baylor as the team's general manager.

The NBA, Baylor contends, "condoned, adopted and ratified this gross pay disparity."

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Times staff writer Greg Johnson contributed to this report.

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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