Donald Sterling Is The Luckiest Man Alive


If you truly believe in the old adage that it’s better to be lucky than good then you should probably stop reading this right now. If you’re also a believer in that good things happen to good people then you really should just close whatever tab this is on and go on with your day.

I’m embarrassed to admit how much time I’ve spent over the past month wondering how in the world one of the world’s most despicable human beings lucked into one of the greatest chains of events imaginable.

I’m talking about Donald T. Sterling – the admitted adulterer, alleged racist, putrid graphic designer, lewd pervert, and all-around horrible human being who happens to own Los Angeles’ other basketball team.

It wasn’t that long ago when Sports Illustrated had three Clippers fans on their cover with paper bags over their heads and the headline, “The Worst Franchise In Sports History (and the man responsible).”  That issue came out 11 years ago and yet every description I used for Sterling in the previous paragraph was earned after that article came out.

(For more on Sterling’s despicable history, please read Bomani Jones’ piece for SB Nation from last month.)

You know in the movies when a guy is holding a Powerball ticket and the camera follows his finger as each number called out corresponds with the ones on his ticket? That’s Donald T. Sterling.

I was born, raised, and still reside in Los Angeles. In the interest of full disclosure I should probably mention that this season is also my 23rd year as a Lakers season ticket holder. I want to make it clear that I don’t fault the few Clippers fans I know because I think they should be rooting for the Lakers. I do it because they root for a team owned by this low-life. Even if you’re of the opinion that what a man does in his personal life or with his other businesses has no effect on whether or not you should root for the team he owns, there are plenty of basketball-related reasons to not root for him or his team to succeed.

I’m a month away from turning 35 and I can still count the number of Clippers fans I know in L.A. on one hand. In fact, if I had to make a list of the top-10 teams most represented in L.A. via bumper stickers, flags, tee shirts, and license plate frames, the list would look this:

  1. Lakers
  2. Dodgers
  3. USC
  4. Raiders
  5. UCLA
  6. C.D. Guadalajara (Chivas)
  7. Red Sox/Yankees (tie)
  8. Cubs
  9. Angels
  10. Club América

(Side note: I live 45 minutes from Anaheim. I’m sure the closer you get to Orange County the higher the Angels would be on this list.)

Now you can’t tell me that now that the Clippers have Chris Paul that will change much. Even with the NBA’s reigning Rookie of the Year they are less popular than two baseball teams three thousand miles away and two soccer teams that play in another country.

And still no team has lucked out more than the Clippers have. No team has ever been rewarded for incompetency and frugality like the Clippers have and especially in this past two months. Since 1985, the Clippers have drafted in the top-10 a total of 18 times. That’s insane. Well it’s insane until you realize how little Sterling spent on scouting and player development.

Now you know why it’s been so hard for me to come to grips with the fact that the NBA allowed him to trade his 1972 Ford Pinto with 325,000 miles on it for one of those concept Porsches that aren’t even available for purchase. Sterling understands the dirty secret of professional sports. If you don’t care about spending and/or winning then you can make money just cashing in on licensing rights, expansion fees, and lucrative billion-dollar TV deals, without having to sell a single ticket.

It’s no secret that Sterling stands to benefit financially from 45-50 regular season and playoff sellouts every year. But all of that is just a drop in the bucket for what Sterling stands to make thanks to the timing of these events.

Let me explain while you try to follow along:

Next season will be the Lakers first under a new television agreement with Time Warner that will establish two new regional sports networks in Los Angeles – one in English and the other in Spanish. This is a huge blow to Fox (and parent company News Corp) because regional sports networks are practically a license to print money. Fox currently has two regional sports networks in Los Angeles—Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket. The Lakers are the centerpiece of one while the Dodgers the centerpiece of the other.

Make no mistake, these are the two crown jewels of the L.A. sports scene. Fox Sports West is the home of the Lakers, Angels, and the NHL’s Kings while Prime Ticket is home to the Dodgers, Clippers, and Anaheim Ducks. Since the majority of Angelenos are both Lakers and Dodgers fans, placing them on separate network puts pressure on cable providers to carry both networks. But with the Lakers leaving and the Dodgers current deal expiring at the end of the 2013 season, there is a lot of pressure on Fox to have enough A-level live sports content for two separate cable networks. This also explains why the Wall Street Journal reported last week that Fox is rumored to have offered a ridiculous sum of money for just a 15-20 percent stake in the Dodgers.

Each of the other four teams currently under contract with Fox, most notably the Angels and the Clippers, have unexpected leverage in negotiating their next TV deals. The Angels were the first to sit down at the negotiating table and strike it rich with Fox. According to the Los Angeles Times, their new deal will net them $30 million more compared to the old one (from a reported $50 million to $80 million per year).

And you wonder why how the Angels paid for both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson?

With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, Donald Sterling now has the proper building blocks in place to net them that same type of increase. If Fox were to also lose the Dodgers, they would at least have a contingency plan in place. They could split the Angels and Clippers up and make each the centerpiece of Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket.

But that’s not all …

Fox Sports West is only the home of Lakers home games. For the last 35 years, all Lakers road games have been televised locally on KCAL (Channel 9). That deal will also come to an end with the Lakers move to their new network. Beginning next season the Lakers will no longer have an over-the-air television partner. In other words, unless you’re watching a nationally televised game on ABC, the Lakers will no longer be available on free TV.

I know there are some who find it unfathomable that there are people in this world who don’t have cable, but the LA Times reported last February that there are about 620,000 households in Los Angeles who don’t subscribe to any cable provider. By comparison, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Oklahoma City is 580,000. There are 40,000 more people in L.A. who don’t have cable than there are total people in Oklahoma City.

KCAL, owned by CBS Corporation, will have a huge programming void to fill when the next NBA season rolls around. The Clippers, who currently have no local TV affiliate, would have another great opportunity to capture the hearts and minds of those 620,000 cable-free households who will no longer get the chance to watch the Lakers for 35-40 regular season games each year.

Prime Ticket currently broadcasts 75 Clippers games per year. But because of their newfound luck and leverage, they could conceivably sell 15 of those 75 to KCAL plus another five to seven games, and still get more money than what Fox is currently paying.

It would be in the Clippers and KCAL’s best interest to selectively go after games that don’t compete with Lakers broadcasts. By raising their profile on free television, it would convince some of those 620,000 without cable to reconsider—especially if they’re a legitimate title contender.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Clippers had to buy airtime on local radio because none of the local stations were interested in broadcasting their games. Now we’re talking about them double dipping in TV contracts and contending for titles—all thanks to David Stern’s veto power and the ripple effect caused by the Lakers new TV deal.

That’s way more money and potential success than any failure-of-a-man should be allowed to make.