The life Donald Sterling once led is just 300 yards up the road from his home, across Sunset Boulevard. He could walk to the Beverly Hills Hotel from his Greek Revival mansion on the corner. But Sterling doesn't walk much these days. He dons slippers with socks because his feet are wracked with gout.
In better days, the disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner was a regular at the iconic hotel where Elizabeth Taylor honeymooned for six of her eight weddings. On weekends, he'd hold court at the same poolside cabanas where Raquel Welch was discovered. The Polo Lounge was a favorite spot for courting free agents or meetings with his front-office staff. Donald liked to order for everyone at the table, then eat off their plates.
Over the years, he has thrown hundreds of parties in the hotel's swanky ballrooms. He paid for beautiful girls to serve food and start conversations. He employed photographers -- some who actually took pictures, some who were paid to play paparazzi to give the scene a more frenzied feel.
In 2012, he hired Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin impersonators for a party to celebrate the Clippers' playoff berth. The Marilyn impersonator tried and failed to coax Blake Griffin and Chris Paul up on stage with her before seductively serenading then-coach Vinny Del Negro while everyone in the room watched. "It was awkward, to put it nicely," Griffin says. "Vinny ended up biting the bullet for us there."
Later, Sterling brought Paul up on stage with him. He asked for a round of applause for the point guard who had elevated the franchise to a new level, then joked, "Why is this guy married? Look at all the beautiful women in L.A." Paul's wife was in the audience. He smiled uncomfortably and said, "Because I love my wife."
Griffin had heard stories of Donald's eccentricities before he was drafted by the Clippers in 2009. The allegations of racism and sexism were well-known. The way he'd stiff coaches he fired and sue anyone who didn't like it. "That's just how he was, so nothing really surprised me," Griffin says. "It could be a little weird here or there. But all that has no effect on what I do on the court, so I just got over it."
There was no getting over -- or coming back from -- the scandal that enveloped Sterling this spring. Just days after TMZ aired a recording of Sterling making racist remarks to his former mistress, V. Stiviano, NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned him for life. It was a break that would alter the NBA and the Clippers forever, but it would not be a clean one. Eighty-year-old Sterling was never going to go quietly. The franchise would have to depose its tyrant first.
In the wake of Silver's verdict, Sterling was lost. One minute he'd lash out, the next he was inconsolable and confused. "When this thing first happened, he was kind of like in a trance," says his lawyer, Max Blecher. "It was like a state of shock. His whole system was disoriented."