LOS ANGELES – The interim CEO hand-picked by the NBA to run the Los Angeles Clippers said Monday he’s confident the league will succeed in forcing a sale of the team owned by Donald Sterling since 1981.
Dick Parsons arrived in Los Angeles and met with management and staff of the Clippers. Sterling has been banned for life by the NBA and fined $2.5 million after recordings of him making racist comments surfaced.
“My personal belief is the league will prevail, which means there will be an ownership change,” Parsons said during a news conference at Staples Center. “A prolonged legal battle is in no one’s interest, certainly not the league’s. I would hope we could avoid that.”
Parsons said he won’t be involved in the ownership fight. He said he’s being paid by the NBA but he doesn’t report to Commissioner Adam Silver or the league’s owners.
Donald Sterling apologized for the racist comments captured during a recorded conversation, saying in a televised interview Monday night that they were a “terrible mistake.”
“I embarrassed the league. I humiliated them. I don’t know how, why I did it,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I mean, it’s so terrible.”
Sterling said he apologized to the NBA, and he doesn’t believe the other owners would vote to have him removed as owner of the Clippers.
“Of course they support me. They can’t understand why I would say that. I can’t understand why I would say that,” he said. “People want me to hire a wall of lawyers and them to have to hire a wall of lawyers and go to war. I don’t think that’s the answer.”
Sterling said he believes the players on the team “love” him.
“They know I’m not a racist, and I’m not a racist,” he said. “I think I create opportunities for them, so they can make $100 million. I don’t give them anything, believe me, and those players could get that same amount of money anywhere else. Of course they earn it, and they work harder than any other sport.”
Parsons doesn’t know Sterling and won’t be talking to him because the 80-year-old owner is banned.
“He’s a little late, to be sure,” Parsons said about Sterling’s apology. “I’m here to turn one of the burners off under the pot, not to turn it up higher.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he was aware of Sterling’s apology, although he had not seen the interview.
“I’m glad that he did it,” Rivers said by phone from Oklahoma City, where the team plays Tuesday. “That’s what you have to do and you should do it. Probably should have done it right away.”
Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly, has said she will fight to keep her 50 percent ownership of the team. Parsons said he anticipates talking with her at some point, although he said Donald Sterling is the only controlling owner of the team.
Parsons described himself as a conservator of the team, someone who will try to keep it from losing value and ensure there is a viable franchise to work with once the ownership issue is resolved.
“I want to leave this place in good shape and in good hands,” he said.
With Sterling barred from anything to do with the team or league, and team President Andy Roeser on an indefinite leave of absence, Parsons will be a key contact for the team’s support staff.
“A lot of these folks have felt beleaguered, beyond disappointed with the way the franchise has been characterized,” said Parsons, who wore a Clippers lapel pin on his suit. “Part of my job will be to tell the folks here to stay focused on the business. Ultimately, there will be a change of ownership and management.”
He said he let them know they are appreciated and the interaction gave him ideas on how to move forward, although he has offered no specifics since taking the job Thursday.
“I’m only beginning to get my arms around what I’m going to do,” he said.
Rivers endorsed Parsons’ hiring, believing he can calm the situation and allow employees to focus on their jobs.
“He’s just gotten in the door, but he’s going to make a big difference, especially for the folks downtown,” Rivers said. “They want to know if they’re safe and where do we go from here.”
Parsons has spoken to Rivers, but not yet to the players. The team is tied 2-2 with Oklahoma City in the Western Conference semifinals.
“I really think it’s going to become America’s team if we get this right,” he said. “Americans love a story where someone gets knocked down and they get back up into the ring. This team has talent.”
Parsons, the 66-year-old former Citigroup chairman and former Time Warner chairman and CEO, was set to return to New York in the evening because his wife is having major surgery on Tuesday. He called himself semi-retired, although he is currently a senior adviser at Providence Equity Partners.
The folksy Parsons described the team’s crisis as “a very exciting challenge and an interesting time for everybody.” He likened his job to that of a ship’s captain in charge of keeping it afloat, headed in the right direction and possibly picking up speed.
“There’s huge danger and pitfalls in front of us,” he said, “but there’s tremendous opportunity for this franchise.”