‘Clipped’ turns Donald Sterling’s fall from the Clippers into a solid-gold series

‘Clipped’ turns Donald Sterling’s fall from the Clippers into a solid-gold series
  • PublishedJune 5, 2024

In a rare victory for the Clippers over the Lakers, “Clipped” is the second recent drama series devoted to one of Los Angeles’ NBA teams but also the superior one, chronicling the spectacular fall of owner Donald Sterling. Rotating among four principal players, with Ed O’Neill as Sterling, it’s an all-star lineup covering a story filled with the kind of outlandish characters that require little embellishment.

The title actually has multiple meanings, since audio clips of Sterling saying wildly racist things about Black people attending Clippers games figured prominently in his downfall. Yet “Clipped” operates on four distinct if overlapping tracks, each nicely fleshed out and delineated over a relatively brisk six episodes.

There’s Sterling, obviously, whose imperious mentality toward his mostly Black players included parading his wealthy friends into the locker room to let them gawk at the athletes. In one of the creepier moments, he takes star Blake Griffin (Austin Scott) by the hand and leads him around, like a child, at a posh party the players uncomfortably attend.

Still, the Sterling story really rests on the two key women in his life at the time: His wife, Shelly (Jacki Weaver), who had long put up with her husband’s infidelities; and his assistant, V. Stiviano (Cleopatra Coleman), an aspiring reality TV star who became the featured player in a different kind of reality show by recording her boss, leading to the revelation of his ugly utterances to the world.

Finally, there’s Doc Rivers (Laurence Fishburne), the well-traveled coach who took the Clippers job well aware of the headwinds associated with its eccentric owner (“I like a challenge,” he explains early on). Even before the scandal erupted, Rivers had to deal with Sterling prefacing questions about personnel decisions with lines like, “My dermatologist says everybody’s looking at this guy.”

Laurence Fishburne as then-Clippers coach Doc Rivers in "Clipped."

Laurence Fishburne as then-Clippers coach Doc Rivers in “Clipped.” Kelsey McNeal/FX

While there’s less basketball than “Winning Time,” HBO’s series about the 1980s Lakers, “Clipped” benefits from the fact so many of those involved with the Clippers during this stretch were so flat-out weird, no one more so than Sterling. (It’s almost helpful to watch old clips of him to fully appreciate that O’Neill’s performance isn’t a major exaggeration.)

As for Stiviano, there’s a certain poignance to her strangeness, recognizing the 80-year-old owner – nearly a half-century her senior – as a golden goose and ticket to where she longs to be, while watching Shelly fume when she cruises up to an event in her shiny Ferrari.

Rivers, meanwhile, found himself in a particularly thorny situation as a Black man working for a demonstrable racist, desperately trying to hold his team together and stave off a walkout during a legitimate playoff run, while having TMZ loiter outside his door.

Adapted from the ESPN podcast The Sterling Affairs under executive producer Gina Welch, and premiering a decade after the story broke as well as on the eve of the NBA Finals, the series also delves into the challenge facing the league. Sterling is shown dismissing the whole matter as “A big nothing” almost up to the moment when the NBA, under new commissioner Adam Silver, banned him and forced him to sell the franchise in 2014.

Hulu has produced a lot of salacious true stories, but few better suited to the limited-series format than this. The Clippers still haven’t won an NBA championship, but “Clipped” takes the mess that Sterling unleashed and turns it into a solid-gold winner.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *