LOS ANGELES -- The interim CEO of the Los Angeles Clippers testified in state court Tuesday afternoon that coach and team president Doc Rivers has told him on multiple occasions that he doesn't think he wants to continue as coach if Donald Sterling remains owner of the team.
Dick Parsons said he has talked to Rivers, several players and key sponsors who are troubled by Sterling's continued ownership of the franchise, which is being adjudicated in a California probate court.
At issue is whether Shelly Sterling acted properly in selling the franchise, without her husband's expressed consent, for a record $2 billion to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Parsons was called as a witness in the trial Tuesday to discuss the effect the continuing uncertainty over the ownership situation has had on the Clippers franchise.
"If Doc were to leave, that would be a disaster," Parsons said. "Doc is the father figure of the team. Chris [Paul ] is the on-court captain of the team. But Doc is really the guy who leads the effort. He's the coach, the grown-up, he's a man of character and ability -- not just in a basketball sense, but in the ability to connect with people and gain their trust. The team believes in him and admires and loves him. If he were to bail, with all the other circumstances, it would accelerate the death spiral."
Donald Sterling's lawyers objected to Parsons' testimony on Rivers, arguing that only Rivers should be allowed to speak on his state of mind in this matter, and if that were the case, Rivers should be called as a witness. While Judge Michael Levanas agreed with the notion, he allowed Parsons to express his opinion on the matter and noted he would not consider it as fact.
"I don't understand why they didn't call Doc Rivers and the players they want to call to give that testimony," Sterling's lawyer Bobby Samini said. "I understand Mr. Parsons had an opinion about what might happen, but they could've easily brought those individuals in to give that testimony themselves."
Samini also cast doubt on some of Parsons' more dire predictions about the Clippers' financial stability should Sterling remain owner.
"I understand -- I'm just not seeing the sinkhole out here swallowing us all up," he said. "But that was the testimony Mr. Parsons gave."
Parsons said that although ticket revenue was essentially the same as the past season's, many of the team's 20 or so sponsors have made it clear they want to continue a relationship with the team only if Sterling is replaced as owner. He cited Mandalay Bay and Kia Motors as examples of sponsors who are "sitting at the edge of the pool and don't want to go in the water unless there is resolution" on the ownership situation.
Parsons said during cross-examination that only six or seven sponsors had explicitly asked to be disassociated from the Clippers following the scandal that enveloped the team after Sterling's racially insensitive comments were published April 25 by TMZ.com. The team gave the remaining two-thirds "a holiday" before they felt compelled to disassociate from the franchise.
"If none of your sponsors want to sponsor you, your coach doesn't want to coach you and players don't want to play for you, what do you have?" Parsons said.