How Phil Knight almost spared us from the Donald Sterling mess

How Phil Knight almost spared us from the Donald Sterling mess
Phil Knight sought to purchase the then-San Diego Clippers in 1980, around the time this photo was taken. (Cathy Cheney)

On Dec. 13, 1980, Nike co-founder Phil Knight almost bought the Los Angeles Clippers.

Almost.

That's the date then-Clippers owners Irving H. Levin and Harold A. Lipton sent Knight and his lawyers a proposal for a deal to sell the team to Knight. The parties had been batting around terms since Dec. 3, 1980.

The paperwork never got finalized. Knight walked.

(His decision not to go through with the deal set off a lawsuit about whether or not Knight had agreed to buy the team. Knight won.)

The team, then based in San Diego and known as the San Diego Clippers, was sold to Donald Sterling one year later and subsequently moved to Los Angeles.

Sterling was banned from the NBA for life this week because of racist remarks. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also said the league will try to force Sterling to sell the team.

Sadly, Knight's imprint on an NBA team will likely never be known.

It's not too much of a stretch to say the team's winning percentage would have been higher with Knight at the helm.

Under Sterling's ownership, the Clippers have compiled the worst winning percentage in any major sport, a level of mediocrity foreign to Knight, who grew Nike from a shoe import business to a $25.3 billion global icon.

And the uniforms? One can only imagine.

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