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Clippers owner Donald Sterling should look in the mirror, not at his players

Sterling reportedly has been heckling Baron Davis and other Clippers players from his courtside seat, but the real root of the team's problems is the man who signs the checks, not those who cash them.

December 14, 2010|Bill Plaschke

Hey, Donald, grow a conscience!!

It might seem unprofessional to heckle Clippers owner Donald Sterling from this column space but, you know, he started it.

News broke this week that Sterling regularly heckles his players from his courtside seat, with Yahoo Sports reporting that Baron Davis has been a recent target, and Chris Kaman confirming that the boss yells at everybody.

"It happens, sure, but it's cool," Kaman told me yesterday.

Kaman is a nice guy who would never rip somebody paying him millions, so, while I appreciate his attitude, I'm not buying his characterization.

An owner who rips his players while they are working is not cool. An owner who embarrasses his employees in front of the customers is not cool.

Think about it. An owner who heckles his own players is actually heckling himself, and not only is that not cool, it's kind of creepy.

Hey, Donald, spend some money!

Don't get me wrong. I can understand somebody heckling Baron Davis. Heck, I've done it myself.

Davis in the third year of a five-year, $65-million contract and has produced about 65 cents' worth. It is as if he came back home to retire. He couldn't play for Mike Dunleavy. He hasn't been in shape for Vinny Del Negro. He's been a huge bust, and I would support all but one Staples Center fan standing up and reminding him of that fact.

All but the man who is paying him.

What kind of message does it send when Davis is being heckled by the only guy in the building who can do something about it? The message is that when it comes to fixing this franchise, Sterling feels as hopeless and helpless as the rest of us. Hmmm. Makes you want to rush out and buy season tickets, doesn't it?

If Sterling is so disgusted with Davis, why doesn't he pay him off or ship him out or order him benched forever? Why scream at something that you can change?

You want another veteran star in here? Don't heckle the one you've got, figure out a way to trade for Carmelo Anthony.

Hey, Donald, buy some manners!

Kaman told me that it's often too loud to hear a single voice at courtside, so Sterling's words have little impact.

"Usually you only hear it when you're shooting a free throw or running down the court during a lull," he said. "I'm telling you, it's really a non-issue."

At least one guy who studies athletes' minds would disagree.

Leonard D. Zaichkowsky, director of sports science for the Vancouver Canucks, told The Times' Baxter Holmes that even millionaire bullying is still bullying.

"Professional athletes, like everyone else, have feelings, and they don't want to be publicly humiliated," he said. "In 99% of the cases, it's not going to help the player. That's why the really good leaders in sports don't do it. As much as they might be tempted to, they just don't do it."

Plus, even if Davis is already immune to the smack, how does heckling him affect his teammates? Everything the Clippers do these days must be judged by its impact on the NBA's most exciting young star, a guy named Blake Griffin, and this can't be good.

Should his first impression of the Clippers really be of a wacky owner yelling at his team in front of 18,000 fans? And we'll all wonder why Griffin ends up leaving town like the rest of the former Clippers greats.

This also can't help in the recruitment of free agents. The average proud NBA star knows he will get enough heckling without making it part of his contract.

Hey Donald, sell the team!

Sterling was unavailable for comment for this story, once again leaving a classy and conscientious Clippers front office to take the heat for him.

I did exchange e-mail with another NBA owner who sits courtside, and the Dallas Mavericks' Mark Cuban admitted that he also hollers at his players.

"Yes, I've yelled at my players," he wrote. "I've blurted out a few, 'what were u thinking' or 'we need more energy' type things."

There is a difference here. Cuban is an owner who will spend whatever it takes to win. The folks at Major League Baseball should be begging him to buy the Dodgers.

Cuban can talk that talk, because he can back it up with his wallet.

This summer Sterling passed on a chance to invest in the best free-agent market in sports history. He passed on a chance to invest in a premier coach. He is headed to court because it is alleged he mistreated Elgin Baylor and failed to pay Mike Dunleavy.

Every time the Clippers take a step forward, Sterling drags them back. Every time Clipper Nation rises up, Sterling pulls them down.

Who should be heckling whom?

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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