LOS ANGELES (AP) — The interim CEO of the Los Angeles Clippers testified Tuesday that coach Doc Rivers told him he will quit if Donald Sterling remains the owner of the team.
CEO Richard Parsons testified at a trial to determine whether Sterling’s wife, Shelly, can sell the team for $2 billion to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer as the NBA looks to force Donald Sterling from the league over racist statements.
“Doc is troubled by this maybe more so than anybody else,” Parsons said about Rivers, who is black. “If Mr. Sterling continues as owner, he does not want to continue as coach.”
Parsons said he fears there would also be an exodus of key players, including team captain Chris Paul, who heads the NBA players union.
The judge stopped Parsons from giving an account of his conversations with Paul when an NBA lawyer objected over privacy issues.
Parsons is a former chief executive at Time Warner and Citigroup who took over leadership of the Clippers in May during the media blitz surrounding the banishment of Sterling.
Under questioning by Ballmer’s lawyer, Parsons said the departure of Rivers would “accelerate the death spiral” of the Clippers.
“If Doc were to leave, that would be a disaster,” Parsons said. “Doc is the father figure, the one who leads.”
The discussion of Clippers players and coaches is new territory for the trial that has mostly explored the dealings between the Sterlings.
It wasn’t immediately clear what effect the new information might have on the narrow question under consideration – whether Shelly Sterling can sell the team under the family trust.
Messages left for team officials seeking comment from Rivers weren’t immediately returned.
Parsons, who is considered an expert in the management of major corporations, said he was certain that big corporate sponsors would pull out and season ticket holders would demand their money back if Donald Sterling remains the owner.
“If your coach leaves, if your players don’t want to play with you, what do you have?” Parsons asked. “If your sponsors leave and the fans leave, it’s going to spiral down and down.”
Parsons also said he doesn’t believe that anyone will offer as much money for the team as Ballmer. That opinion was seconded by witness Anwar Zakkour, an investment banker who helped broker the deal for Ballmer’s purchase and said he never expected a bid so big.
Explaining why Ballmer would have bid over the value of the team, Zakkour said, “It was a trophy asset.”
“This is the highest price ever achieved for a sports team,” he said. “However way you count it, this is an amazing price that anyone should be satisfied with.”
Parsons and Zakkour said that if the NBA seized the team and put it up for auction, the price would drop because there would be less certainty about the team’s future.
Outside court, Sterling’s lawyer, Bobby Samini, said the billionaire would persist in his opposition to the sale because “he feels he was wronged” by the NBA.
“He has no desire to destroy the team,” Samini said. “He is fighting to protect his rights.”
Later Tuesday, Sterling fired off another legal volley, filing a new lawsuit against his wife, the NBA and league Commissioner Adam Silver that alleges fraud, breach of contract, unfair business practices and infliction of emotional distress. He claimed, among other things, that he was tricked into being examined by psychiatrists to establish whether he was mentally competent.
The high-stakes financial fight centers on whether Shelly Sterling was authorized to make a deal with Ballmer on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust.
Outside court, Shelly Sterling’s lawyer, Pierce O’Donnell, said Donald Sterling is being driven by “a perverted egotism.”
“Right now, we’re in the grips of Donald Sterling’s craziness,” he said.