Baylor Sues Clippers, Alleging Racist Attitude

Lisa Dillman, Los Angeles Times, February 12, 2009

NBA Hall of Famer and former longtime Clippers executive Elgin Baylor alleges in a civil lawsuit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles that team owner Donald Sterling has embraced a “vision of a Southern plantation-type structure” for his NBA franchise, accusing him of decades-long racist behavior.

Baylor worked for the Clippers for 22 years. The complaint against Sterling and others, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and obtained by The Times, presented Baylor’s version of an eroding relationship between Baylor and Sterling. Baylor contends, among other things, that the Clippers owner had “a pervasive and ongoing racist attitude as expressed to then-NBA player Danny Manning during contract negotiations.”

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Also named in the lawsuit was the team, the NBA and Clippers President Andy Roeser. Clippers officials said at their game against the Knicks on Wednesday they had not been served with the lawsuit.

“Not having seen the complaint, I cannot comment on Elgin’s specific allegations,” said Robert H. Platt, Clippers general counsel and partner at the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. “However, I can categorically state that the Clippers always treated Elgin fairly throughout his long tenure with the team. Prior to his decision to leave the team last October, Elgin never raised any claims of unfair treatment.

“It’s hard to believe that he would now make these ridiculous claims after the organization stood by him for 22 years and only three playoff appearances. It would be hard to find any sports team that has demonstrated greater loyalty to its general manager. The team intends to vigorously defend itself against these false allegations and will prevail when all the facts are heard,” [said Robert H. Platt, Clippers general counsel and partner at the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips].

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The suit alleged NBA Commissioner David Stern was present when Sterling allegedly said of Manning, “I’m offering a lot of money for a poor black kid.” That tone was echoed in another alleged incident in which Baylor claimed Sterling told him that “he [Sterling] wanted the Clippers team to be composed of ‘poor black boys from the South’ and a white head coach.”

Another part of the lawsuit dealt with Baylor’s role in the organization. It alleged, as far back as 2004, Sterling and other club officials were employing “a campaign” to force Baylor into retirement–using “ageist comments” and “repeatedly hassling” him about quitting.

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The suit alleges “the Caucasian head coach was given a four-year, $22-million contract,” but Baylor’s salary “has been frozen at a comparatively paltry $350,000 since 2003.”

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Supporters of former Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor rallied behind him today, including L.A. civil rights leader Earl Ofari Hutchinson, one day after the Hall of Fame player filed a civil lawsuit against the team and owner Donald Sterling.

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At a news conference today, Baylor’s attorney Carl Douglas was asked how the former Lakers star could work for the Clippers for so long in light of the lawsuit, which accuses the team and its owner of ongoing racist attitudes.

“One thing to remember about Elgin, he’s humble. He’s poised. He’s gracious. It’s not in his nature to rock the boat,” Douglas said.

“He was one of 30 people that held those kind of jobs. It was his life, working in the city he loved. And he hoped that with his continued effort he’d be able to turn the team around and make them into a winner. Regrettably he was tossed out before he was given that chance.”

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