In the summer of 1988, just months after leading Kansas to the NCAA title, Danny Manning sat in a room with Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Manning was 22, a recent college graduate and the No. 1 overall pick in the 1988 NBA Draft. He was, by general consensus, a future franchise player. But contract negotiations had grown contentious between the Clippers and Manning’s camp.
Sterling, then 54, was still in his first decade of NBA ownership, guiding an often unstable ship. Sterling and Manning’s agent, Ron Grinker, had haggled over Manning’s first contract, and with Manning within earshot, Sterling offered a rather hostile negotiating ploy.
“I’m offering a lot of money for a poor black kid,” Sterling said, according to a 2009 lawsuit filed by former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor.
The Manning story surfaced again Tuesday when Sterling, now 80, was banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million after he was found to have made overtly racist statements on a recording that was obtained by the website TMZ.
The lifetime ban drew nearly unanimous praise from present and past NBA players, including former Clipper and Missouri star Keyon Dooling.
“I was disgusted,” Dooling told The Star on Tuesday. “Obviously, that kind of talk in your private life or your public life, it’s just not acceptable. And I wasn’t that surprised.”
When Dooling left Missouri after his sophomore season in 2000, he had a list of teams that he feared landing on. Near the top, he says, was the Clippers. They were among the worst teams in professional sports, and the stories of Sterling’s tightwad ways easily spread across NBA player circles.
On draft night, his fears came true. He was drafted by Orlando, then sent to the Clippers in a trade.
“He would be at all the games,” said Dooling, who played for the Clippers from 2000-04. “He would come into our locker room. But he never wanted to get to know you as a person. During my whole career, I probably only had real-life conversations with three owners.”
When Baylor accused Sterling of running a “a Southern plantation-type structure” in the 2009 lawsuit, Dooling couldn’t disagree.
“He’s shown time and time again that he has a belief that certain people are inferior to him,” said Dooling, who served six years as the vice-president of the NBA Players Association before retiring last year.
Dooling, who now freelances as a player-development consultant for the NBA, said he was happy Sterling’s views had been exposed. But Dooling wondered why it took so long. Last decade, Sterling weathered multiple lawsuits that charged racial discrimination against his real estate ventures in Southern California.
“It shows that people tolerate racism that is subtle and beneath the surface,” Dooling said. “There’s different types of racism. Sometimes it’s just hidden behind certain systems or the tools and instruments that are put in place in society.
“There’s a lot of invisible walls that minorities have to deal with. And when situations like this occur, it’s a great opportunity to start the dialogue. If you don’t go through it, you really can’t understand it.”
Manning, now the head coach at Wake Forest, has remained mostly quiet about Sterling. Manning played for the Clippers for parts of six seasons before being traded to the Atlanta Hawks in the 1993-94 season. Despite injuries, he played in two All-Star games.
Sterling complained about Manning’s ability, according to a 1991 Los Angeles Times story. But when Baylor’s lawsuit against became public in 2009, and Sterling’s treatment of Manning surfaced, a Times reporter emailed KU, where Manning was working as an assistant at the time.
Baylor would later drop the racial allegations in his lawsuit, but Manning still took the time to respond.
“I knew I wasn’t wealthy,” Manning said in a statement, “but I didn’t think I was poor either.”