Donald T. Sterling (born Donald Tokowitz; April 26, 1934) is an American businessman and attorney. He was the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball franchise of the National Basketball Association (NBA) from 1981 to 2014.
In April 2014, Sterling was banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million by the league after private recordings of him making racist comments were made public. In May, Sterling’s wife, Shelly, reached an agreement to sell the Clippers for $2 billion to Steve Ballmer, which Sterling has contested in court. The NBA Board of Governors approved the sale of the Clippers to Ballmer on August 12, 2014.
Donald Sterling was born Donald Tokowitz on April 26, 1934, in Chicago, Illinois. His family moved to the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles when he was two years old. His parents, Susan and Mickey, were Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants. He attended Theodore Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles, where he was on the school’s gymnastics team and served as class president; he graduated in 1952. He next attended California State University, Los Angeles (Class of 1956) and Southwestern University School of Law (Class of 1960) in Los Angeles.
When he was 25 (after he was married), he and his wife Shelly changed their surname to “Sterling”, filing a formal petition to do so on December 9, 1959. They cited the difficulty among his peers to pronounce “Tokowitz” and the belief that there would be financial benefits for the change.
Legal and real estate career
Starting in 1961, Sterling began to make his career as a divorce and personal injury attorney building an independent practice when Jews had few opportunities at prestigious law firms. His biggest ventures were in real estate, which he began when he purchased a 26-unit apartment building in Beverly Hills.
In the 1960s, Sterling also purchased Lesser Towers, a pair of large apartment buildings in the Westwood area of Los Angeles, and renamed them the Sterling Towers (now the Sterling International Towers). In 1976, he leased the California Bank Building on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, and renamed it Sterling Plaza. The Art Deco landmark was built in 1930 by MGM cofounder Louis B. Mayer. In 2000, an exhaustive 6,500-word essay by Sports Illustrated senior writer Franz Lidz revealed that Sterling had a 99-year lease with the Mayer estate that required him to pay a relatively small annual fee and 15% of any rental income. Which was why for many years Sterling remained the sole tenant. “With no other tenant,” Lidz reported, “the Mayer estate faces another 75 years with virtually no income from its Sterling Plaza property. By sitting and waiting, Sterling may force a fire sale.” As of April 2014, he owned 162 properties in Los Angeles.