Friday, 8 May 2015

The Time Paul Silas Let A Clippers Beat Writer Make A Draft Pick

Earlier today, we published the second part of our oral history of Donald Sterling’s Clippers (you can read the first part here), in which a bunch of former Clippers beat writers shared stories from their days around the impossibly dysfunctional organization. Things were so bleak in Clipperland then, that Paul Silas, the head coach at the time, once let a beat writer make a draft pick.
Here’s how Nick Canepa, who worked the beat during the 1981-82 season, remembers it:
I think it was the draft where they drafted [Terry] Cummings. I think it was the ’82 draft. This is the honest to God’s truth, there were a lot of rounds in the draft then, not two like there are now. There were a lot of rounds in the draft then. Not two like there are now. I think they were up to like, the seventh round. And I’m sitting in Silas’s office, and you know, he’s looking at these sheets, and he goes, “I don’t know Nick, you pick somebody.”
I’m saying, is Eddie Hughes gone yet? Eddie Hughes was a little guard who was just a rocket at Colorado State. I’d been covering San Diego State basketball before that. ... One of the fastest players I’ve ever seen. [I said] “Is Eddie Hughes from Colorado State gone yet?” And he says, “No.” So they drafted him. I drafted a guy.
Now scroll down to read the rest of the stories.
These days, the Los Angeles Clippers are in pretty good shape. The team is worth $2 billion, is a perennial playoff contender, and has been free of the ownership of racist shitbag Donald Sterling for over a year. With the Clippers entering a new era, one in which they aren’t the most embarrassing franchise in pro sports, it feels like a good time to look back at the bad old days, and talk to those who lived through them.
We’ll be hearing from the players, coaches, writers, and executives who found themselves caught in the strange vortex of Donald Sterling’s Clippers. Call it an oral history of crushing incompetence.
Yesterday, some former Clippers players told us all about how much it sucked to play for the team back in the ‘80s. Today, we’ll hear from some of the reporters who had to cover Sterling’s Clippers team.

On Donald Sterling

Mark Heisler (L.A. Times, 1979-2011): It was just like god teed him up. He was absurdity on its face. He would make the kinds of mistakes that nobody could make. And he would not learn from ’em. Woefully and defiantly ignorant. He would just do the same things over and over again while maintaining, “I just want to win.” He would say that over and over again. When I did the first piece about him, there’s a quote in there, he’s just like hyperventilating about the attention he gets. And he’s talking about how George Page, who’s the head of one of the museums around here, was calling him up and talking to him as if he knew him. ... It was very clear that that was the payoff for him. And winning was secondary.
Nick Canepa (beat writer, San Diego Evening Tribune, 1981-82): The first road trip [of the Sterling era] was Kansas City, Chicago, and Milwaukee, and I was working for the Evening Tribune then, and we didn’t have a Sunday paper. The Union had the Sunday paper. So Saturday game in Chicago, I didn’t write. I was there and Sterling had a bunch of relatives. I’d just met Donald T. Sterling. And he had a bunch of relatives there, and he’s flitting around, introducing them all, so the game was about to start and I sat down there at courtside at the old Chicago Stadium, and his niece or cousin or somebody—one of his relatives—sits next to me and at the start of the conversation she says, “How well do you know Donald?” I said, “I barely know him at all. I just met him.” And she just went off on him, just called him every name under the sun. “Bad guy.” “Despicable human being.” And I’m sitting there, and I’d barely met the guy. This was a relative.
Scott Howard-Cooper (beat writer, L.A. Times 1988-89 to 1992-93): He made it hard for everybody to do their job because he was a meddler, and he was a meddler who didn’t know what he was doing. That’s the real problem. ... Owners get involved. It’s their investment in what has now become hundreds of millions of dollars, and in some cases, billions of dollars. Of course they’re going to be involved. Jerry Buss was heavily involved. The guy who gets all the credit for being a great owner. ... There were times where [Lakers GM] Jerry West had to throw himself on the tracks to stop something from happening that Jerry West didn’t believe should happen and Jerry Buss did. So it’s not like Sterling was unique in that regard in being a meddler. But it was the way that it had impacted everything, the way that it always involved of some degree of madness, that was what set Sterling apart.
Heisler: I remember in this first piece that I wrote, he’s actually standing up and he’s telling me about how to run the team. And then he kind of like drifts off and then he says, “I don’t know the point I’m making.” Given the fact that the team was terrible and he had no credibility, later on, you know, in the last few years, it changed because the team got good. And it had nothing to do with him. It was a lucky series of coincidences that removed him from being able to harm what was happening.
Ailene Voisin (beat writer, San Diego Union/L.A. Herald-Examiner 1980s): Opening night in [1981], they beat the Houston Rockets in the old San Diego Sports Arena. And Sterling ran across the court and jumped into the arms of the head coach, Paul Silas. From that point on, anytime the Clippers were doing anything, all eyes were across the court on where Donald Sterling always sat with his friends. Sometimes his wife Shelly was there.
And I said, “No you can’t.” I said, “I get the premise, but nobody’s gonna root for Donald Sterling.” They may root for players, and they’re gonna have their good moments, but I said, “This is not the Cubs overcoming decades of coming close. This is a level of incompetence that goes beyond anything that we really see anywhere.”
Heisler: It’s like the American dream upside down. It’s like what would happen if you got all the money and it was shit.
Previously: What It Was Like To Play For The ‘80s Clippers, The Worst Team In Sports