Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers who on Tuesday was banned for life from the NBA and fined $2.5 million for racist remarks, reportedly has something of a history of offensive remarks and questionable business practices. Even before the furor over Sterling’s most recent indiscretion, he was widely reviled by the rest of the NBA for his tight-fisted management of the Clippers that for years earned the team a reputation as the worst franchise in the NBA (and even all major league sports).
He also has a history of philanthropy, as Sterling has been the recipient of donor awards from numerous organizations like the Special Olympics and the NAACP. Whether or not Sterling’s charitable efforts were a form of “reputation laundering,” his aversion to spending money seemingly didn’t extend to his charitable donations.
But one thing tends to pop up when reviewing Sterling’s philanthropy: He gives away a lot of Clippers tickets in lieu of cash.
Not to misrepresent Sterling; he has donated millions of dollars over the years to various organizations. But his donations of Clippers tickets — over 280,000 tickets to more than 2,000 community groups over the past few years — are a high-profile aspect of his philanthropy.
Sterling would give around 2,000 to 3,000 tickets per game to youth groups. Those tickets may have been hot commodities over the past few seasons, but before the Clippers successful streak, Sterling’s generosity had more of an appearance that he was just filling empty Staples Center seats to boost attendance.
A Sports Illustrated profile on Sterling from 2000 offers probably the most striking example of Sterling’s attitudes toward his ticket donations:
Not that every charity has found it easy to separate Sterling from his swag. Linda McCoy-Murray recognized that last summer when she phoned him to help sponsor a golf tournament in honor of her late husband, venerated L.A. Times sports columnist Jim Murray. Every pro franchise in California, according to McCoy-Murray had forked over at least $5,000 to her foundation, which provides journalism scholarships. Every pro franchise, that is, except the Clippers, which had memorialized Murray on the final page of last season’s media guide. Sterling offered McCoy-Murray two season passes. “You know, that’s wonderful,” she remembers telling him. “but we’re trying to endow a college scholarship fund. We could really use cash.”
Sterling, she says, replied, “Those two tickets have a face value of $4,000!”
“Fine,” she said. “We can use the tickets for our silent auction. But would you also consider donating $5,000?”
Sterling said he would mull it over and call her the following week. He never did nor did he send over the season passes.