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Clippers weren't sincere about winning, Elgin Baylor's attorney contends

In the opening of Baylor's wrongful termination lawsuit against the team, attorney Alvin J. Pittman tells jurors the Clippers were unwilling to spend money to sign key players.

March 09, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • Former Clippers general manager and Lakers great Elgin Baylor is suing Clippers owner Donald Sterling for wrongful termination based on age discrimination.
Former Clippers general manager and Lakers great Elgin Baylor is suing… (Lori Shepler / Los Angeles…)

Elgin Baylor's wrongful-termination lawsuit against the Clippers tipped off Tuesday, with his attorney portraying the team as lacking a sincere commitment to success.

Baylor's attorney, Alvin J. Pittman, in his opening statement, told the seven-man, five woman jury in Los Angeles Superior Court that Baylor was "positioned to take responsibility for the [team's] losses" when he was ousted in 2008 after 22 years as a Clippers executive.

Pittman told jurors that current team President Andy Roeser once told Baylor, then executive vice president and general manager, that "teams sell one of two things: success or hope, and the Clippers sell hope."

Baylor, 76, is suing Roeser, Clippers owner Donald Sterling and the team for wrongful termination based on age discrimination. The Clippers deny any age discrimination.

In his opening statement, Clippers attorney Robert Platt said Baylor made awful choices in his draft picks and was justifiably held to answer by a Roeser "report card" to Sterling in 2005 that pointed out Baylor's 509-1,017 record over 19 seasons.

Baylor dropped the NBA as a defendant from the lawsuit Monday, and he dropped a racial discrimination claim from the suit last week.

The Clippers argue they exhibited great loyalty to Baylor, calling him one of the family.

Baylor contends his role was sabotaged from 2005 by then-vice president Roeser's push to "harass him, discriminate against him and force him out because of his age," Pittman told jurors.

Pittman showed jurors a Roeser memo that read, "Elgin's not getting any younger," and said Baylor was chided about his age and upcoming birthdays.

Platt told the jury that the team and Roeser merely followed Baylor's wishes to leave two years after the beginning of the 2006 season. The Clippers offered Baylor a $10,000-monthly "proposal" to leave office that included four Clippers season tickets.

"That offer stands," Platt said in court, with an upset Baylor shaking his head.

"The Clippers already had a reputation as a horrible franchise" when Baylor, a former Lakers star, took over the Clippers player-personnel duties in 1986, Pittman said. "Whereas the Lakers had ownership showing an interest in winning, Mr. Baylor accepted a position that was challenging, a team that has a tradition of losing and unwilling to pay or re-sign key players."

Platt, the Clippers' attorney, in court named Reggie Williams, Joe Wolf, Terry Dehere and Michael Olowokandi among Baylor's poor first-round draft picks "that have gone away in the wind," while Baylor let free agents like Kobe Bryant and Carlos Boozer sign with other teams.

"The team did sell hope — hope that Mr. Baylor would pick the right player, and the team's lack of success directly affected the team's financial success," Platt said.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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