Try to imagine you’re at a business gathering, maybe a trade show. Your boss holds court in one corner of the room. He’s surrounded by people who are insiders in your industry — some of whom know you personally, while others are only vaguely familiar with your work.
The next morning you find out through a third party who doesn’t even work for your company that your boss told those insiders he has no idea why the company hired you (only he called you “Whatshisname.”).
Or maybe your boss told the circle you have lousy taste in personnel and couldn’t attract the real comers in the field, even though that was your job. Your boss complained about how his investments in capital improvement would attract better talent, only you couldn’t close.
The irony of Sterling’s griping about his organization’s inability to lure top talent is almost too obvious to acknowledge. You might agree with Sterling that the signings of Gomes and Foye represents a failure for the franchise this summer. You might hold Clippers general manager Neil Olshey accountable for that, or head coach Vinny Del Negro for his input in those choices. I think Olshey exercised discipline and deployed a sound long-term strategy given the circumstances — Sterling being one of the primary circumstances. Intelligent people can disagree about how the Clippers fared this summer in the marketplace. But whichever side of the argument you fall on, there isn’t a reasonable excuse in the world for what Sterling did to Gomes, Foye, Olshey and Del Negro.
The Clippers’ curse isn’t a supernatural phenomenon. It has a name, a face and an unfortunate history of personal failure.
Over the past few years, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people who work for the Clippers. They work across the organization in sales, marketing, communications, digital media and basketball operations. These are professional people who are proud of their work — and they should be because every day they do a solid job for a brand that few people think very much of. Yet they do the work, some of them with a sincere hope that one day they’ll be able to say that they had something to do with the moment the Clippers became an entity that mattered in Los Angeles and in the NBA.
Although I haven’t met Foye, last week I visited with Gomes for the first time one-on-one. I found a thoughtful professional. A very measured executive for one of the league’s most well-respected franchises told me that Gomes is one of the best people involved in professional basketball. Olshey is eager to do his job well. He’s always courteous, has pretty decent taste in basketball players and is a more creative dealmaker than he’s been allowed to be. Del Negro has been with the team for only five weeks, but has brought the kind of charisma and exuberance that vaulted him to the top of Sterling’s list of coaching candidates.
Whether Gomes, Foye, Olshey and Del Negro are basketball geniuses or likable doesn’t really matter. As employees of the Los Angeles Clippers, they all warrant Sterling’s basic respect, which ultimately requires so little of such a blessed, wealthy man. All Sterling has to do when asked about his employees in polite company is offer an endorsement — or, at the very least, not publicly humiliate them. That’s his only ambassadorial duty as team owner on a day when the Clippers introduce the media to some minor stylistic tweaks on their uniforms.
Imagine it’s your world again. We return just as you’ve found out your boss was trashing you to people outside your company. Now ask yourself:
Is this a place you want to work?