'Clipped': What to know about the Donald Sterling scandal

Long before Kawhi Leonard signed with the Los Angeles Clippers after winning his second NBA Finals MVP, before nine-time NBA All-Star Paul George proudly wore his Clippers gear on "Podcast P," and before James Harden went viral for making snow angels to the sounds of a vivacious crowd at the Crypto.com Arena following a four-point play, there was a big scandal in Clipper Nation. 

No, we’re not talking about Leonard being called the "worst superstar in sports history" by ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith or even Russell Westbrook getting into a heated exchange with a Phoenix Suns fan during the 2023 playoffs. 

This was massive and had an impact well beyond Staples Center. 

The scandal that rocked the sports world a decade ago during the Clippers' "Lob City" era is being retold in the FX limited series called "Clipped." The show is based on ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary series when Shelly Sterling sat down with Ramona Shelburne. "Clipped" stars Hollywood heavy hitters Laurence Fishburne as Doc Rivers, Jacki Weaver as Shelly Sterling and Ed O’Neill as the disgraced Donald Sterling. 

The trailer for the FX series dropped during the Clippers’ 2024 playoff run, much like the real story broke a decade prior. 

It’s a scandal that wasn’t about one thing in particular. It encompassed racism, sex, status, and wealth – and it all centered around a team that didn’t need another thing to feed the haters, as they were already considered the laughingstock of the league.

This was a team that didn’t even have a practice facility of their own until 2008, as documented in the 30 for 30 series. Until then, their practices were held at Los Angeles Southwest College, a facility that wasn’t even suitable for a D1 college team. 

On the night of April 25, 2014, TMZ broke the news of a leaked audio recording involving then-Clippers owner, Donald Sterling. 

The recordings were of conversations between Donald Sterling and his mistress, V. Stiviano that apparently occurred after she posted a picture with NBA legend, Magic Johnson. 

The comments were racist and had an impact across the globe.

Sterling, who purchased the team in 1981, had owned the Clippers for 33 years and was the one who moved the franchise from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1985. According to a Los Angeles Business Journal feature in 2007, Sterling, who was 70 at the time, had a net worth of $1.4 billion due to his thriving career in luxury real estate. At the time, some of the properties the Sterlings owned included the Beverly Hills Plaza Hotel, the Malibu Beach Club, and an estimated 100 apartment buildings across Southern California. 

In 2006, the Sterlings were sued by the Department of Justice for a housing discrimination lawsuit following allegations they refused to rent to potential Black and Hispanic tenants. In 2009, he agreed to pay $2.725 million to settle. In a press release, federal officials said it was the "largest monetary payment ever obtained by the department in the settlement of a case alleging housing discrimination in the rental of apartments."

However, the Sterlings could not buy their way out this time.

After the recordings were leaked and the scandal garnered worldwide attention, the NBA’s new commissioner, Adam Silver, had no choice but to step in and do something.

Establishing himself as a no-nonsense commissioner, Silver wasted no time. Just four days after TMZ released their story, Sterling was given a lifetime ban from the NBA and fined $2.5 million.

The NBA’s other owners then took a vote and agreed the Sterlings should be forced to sell the team. 


Sources told Shelburne that Shelly Sterling became the sole trustee of the Sterling family trust and on May 29, 2014, Mrs. Sterling announced she sold the LA Clippers to former Microsoft SEO, Steve Ballmer. 

Ricky Chu, Mark Genato, Dwayne Logan Jr., and Lawrence Barnett have each been fans for at least two decades and didn’t allow the scandal to deter their loyalty. Learn more about the scandal through the Clipper fans who experienced it below. 

The Importance of the ‘Lob City’ era

This star-studded era was crucial for the franchise and is considered a fan-favorite among Clipper Nation. 


(Photo by Randy Holmes/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images) BLAKE GRIFFIN, DEANDRE JORDAN, CHRIS PAUL

The Clippers selected Blake Griffin as the first overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft and in 2011, they made a blockbuster trade for Chris Paul, pairing the "Point God" with Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. 

It was Griffin himself who coined the name of the era. After the Chris Paul trade, he told reporters, "Yeah, it’s going to be Lob City!"

What made this time even more significant was that the tables had turned in LA. For the first time, the Clippers were good, and the Lakers were bad. From 2013-2016, the Lakers couldn’t win any more than 27 games a season. 

"Everybody was talking about the Clippers you know. And "That was huge because like in reality the Clippers were not very popular before then," Chu recalled. "I go out of the country and at that time everyone's like ‘Oh, Chris Paul,' or ‘Oh Blake Griffin, Lob City.' You could see kids throwing lobs to each other…they were actually worldwide at that point."


Clippers Chris Paul #3, DeAndre Jordan #6 and Blake Griffin #32 walk off the court after being beaten by the Thunder at the Staples Center, Monday, December 21, 2015. The Thunder defeated the Clippers 100-99. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/

Dwayne Logan was a season ticket holder and talked about going to games with his friend, a diehard Lakers fan.

"I knew my window to stunt on him and other Laker fans was very small and I was going to take advantage of it," Logan said. "At that time, smacking them for that entire decade, despite the scandal felt really good, felt like were on an uptrend for a while. And like I said, it's just getting started."

However, Barnett doesn’t exactly look back on those days as fondly as others. 

"It was just a lot of disappointment and heartbreak and sadness. It was a lot of potential that was never reached," Barnett recalled.

Donald Sterling’s White Parties

Donald Sterling’s annual White Party was held at his Malibu mansion each year with a guest list comprised of who’s who in LA, Clippers players and selected season ticket holders. 

Everyone in attendance wore white while Mr. Sterling wore black. 

The trailer for "Clipped" depicts the 2009 events after the team drafted Blake Griffin.

Ricky Chu, who has been a season ticket holder since the 1980s, was in attendance for the event in 2009 with his father. 

In the 30 for 30 series, Quentin Richardson expressed discomfort and that it was "not the same-looking crowd as we are." Like many of his teammates, he kept that uneasiness to himself and "wanted to be respectful."

Looking back on 2009’s soirée, Chu remembers feeling "awkward."


Ricky Chi pictured with Blake Griffin

"He would prance the players on stage like they were his property. Like when he brought Blake on stage, like, ‘Oh, look at this fine specimen," Chu said. "At that point, we're like, oh, this is kind of weird. And you could tell the players weren't, like, really down with it, but like, what do you really do? Because he’s the guy that pays the bills."

Chaos erupts on the Night of April 25, 2014

TMZ first broke the news of the leaked audio in an article that dropped at 10 p.m. on April 25, 2014, with the headline highlighting Sterling saying, "Don’t bring Black people to my games."

Chu remembers waking up to the news the next morning.

"It was like a really emotional time for us, too, because, you know, as Asian-Americans growing up in America, we dealt with a lot of racism, too, back in the 80s and early 90s," he said. 

Logan was a junior in college at the time and said the scandal opened his eyes to what the players endure off the court.


(Courtesy: Dwayne Logan Jr.)

"I just remember the tape recordings and him saying all this crazy, nasty stuff was coming out. And people start looking at sports owners and leaders differently. And it stops being a sports team and ends up being like a small facet of a larger community, and that being spokespeople for equality in sports and people being a little bit more conscious of the way they speak about others."

While the audio recordings were shocking to many, it wasn’t exactly a surprise to fans who had heard rumors and knew it was a matter of time before he would be exposed. 


A demonstration against LA Clipper team owner, Donald Sterling, outside of the Staples Center. (Photo by Ted Soqui/Corbis via Getty Images)

"We knew that there was this, you know, he was a terrible owner, but we didn't have concrete proof the way we did with that audio. Everything was kind of hearsay and stories about him and this and that. So he wasn't necessarily well-liked. But when that dropped, it just really opened the floodgates for a lot of stuff to come out. And we're all happy that it did," Genato said. 

A Time of Unity

Even at the peak of the controversy, the Clippers' playoff run had to continue. Game 4 in the Bay Area happened just two days after the scandal broke and it’s what happened before the Clippers came back for Game 5 that fans will always remember. 

At that time, fans wanted to rally around and show support for the players. For that emotional Game 5, Clippers and Warriors fans wore all black in solidarity.

"They're going through this and none of it is their fault," Chu said, adding fans across the league wanted to support the players.

Genato was in the arena for Game 5 and said it’s a game he’ll never forget. 


Pictured: Mark Genato after the Donald Sterling scandal rocked the sports world.

"It was amazing. That was it was indescribable. No one asked those teams. We didn't expect that. So just to have that support, meant a lot to the fan base. I'm sure it meant a lot to the players as well," he said.

Genato continued to explain, "It was very emotional in the building. I mean we all wore black as a fan base. We did not wear the Clipper colors. And there was definitely a feeling of solidarity in the arena. Not only the Clipper fans, but even with the Warrior fans that were there. We really didn't have to do much of the traditional banter that we would have between each other. It wasn't as hostile. It was an exciting environment, but we all knew the underlying [meaning behind] the game there. There is a bigger thing going on that affected everybody. And we knew that was going to affect the league. No matter what team are rooting for and I'm just glad that everybody showed up from our fan base and even from the opposing fan base, to be there for that night, because I've never experienced anything like that type of crowd since then."


Game 5 of the 2014 Clippers-Warriors playoff series at the Staples Center. (Mark Genato)

With the world watching them, the Clippers went on to win that game and the playoff series. Unfortunately, they were eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals.

Clipper Fans to React to ‘Clipped’ trailer release

Just like the real scandal that happened 10 years ago mid-playoff run, FX released the trailer for "Clipped," the day ahead of Game 3 in the 2024 Clippers-Mavericks playoff series. 

"I didn't like it because it was a distraction. I thought it was a distraction. We have enough distractions as it is. We have enough naysayers as it is. And I knew it was going to bring a lot of unnecessary attention, especially from the fan base across town. So I knew it was that bad timing, just like it was the first time. So it was just another hurdle for us to go, and try to conquer while we were trying to make a playoff run," Genato said. 

Barnett described the timing as "dirty."


Pictured: Lawrence Barnett

"It’s dirty. I don't know why they always do with us. It feels like anytime something good happens for the Clippers, you can’t get too happy because something terrible is happening right around the corner. And this show is going to another one of those things."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: 'Clipped' trailer about Donald Sterling's downfall released amid LA Clippers' 2024 playoff run

Even if the show gains a lot of buzz and earns any awards, Barnett said he will not be watching.

I don't want to relive one second of that time. Like no part of that was part of that was fun. First of all, Donald Sterling sucked as an owner, like it was tough to be a Clippers fan, and always have a guy like, ‘Yo, we can be good, but Donald Sterling's going to mess something up," Barnett said. "So, I don't want to go back to that time. I love Steve Ballmer. I don't want to go back to that."

Logan described seeing the trailer as "Opening a Christmas gift you expected, but it didn't quite look the way you wanted it to look." He added he can’t wait to watch and will be doing so the day it’s available for streaming."

Chu admits at first, he had doubts.

"I kind of didn't want to relive that type of moment in life. Because when the whole thing went down with Sterling, it was a really dark moment in terms of racial equality and, and everything that we've been striving for," he said.

Now, he’s had a change of heart. 

"I think it's good for the world to actually see and experience it. And I know that no how hard we fight, we still have a long way to go. So I think it's for people to see what really went down at that time." 

While Genato didn't care for the timing of the trailer release, he feels it’s an important story to tell.

"To see something being made about something that you were a part of, that you got to witness it real time, good or bad, it’s an important event that happened. And so, to see that it got the attention that it deserved, to be able to be made into a series to, to show awareness of what happened during this time, was pretty exciting to see," he said.

A New Chapter Begins


Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, left, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

This franchise has been through a lot. Under Steve Ballmer’s ownership, the franchise is turning over a new leaf when they move into their own arena, the Intuit Dome, in Inglewood this summer.

Finally, they will no longer have to share a building with the Lakers. In addition, they’ll debut a rebranding with a new logo and uniforms.

Being a fan of the LA Clippers isn’t for the faint of heart, but the fans who spoke to FOX 11 wouldn’t have it any other way. 

"We just need to get to the top of the mountain. And I'm confident that we will get there, with the right people in place with Steve Ballmer, Lawrence Frank, Ty Lue, Kawhi [Leonard] and everybody else who comes on," Genato said.


While he won’t be tuning in to the FX series, Barnett said he has "supreme optimism" when it comes to the future of the franchise.

"This is the best time to be a Clippers fan, to be honest with you," he said. "I have supreme trust in Steve Ballmer. He's been awesome since he got here… I'm as confident as I've ever been as a Clipper fan. I didn't get in the Clippers for them to win. So, all this is a bonus. Like, all of this is beautiful to me. "

Where to watch 

The first two episodes of "Clipped" were released on Hulu on Tuesday, June 4. From there, one episode will be released on the streaming platform each Tuesday through July 2.