Written by Phin Upham
Born Donald Tokowitz, Donald Sterling came from Chicago and was raised in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. He went to Theodore Roosevelt High where he was a member of the school’s gymnastic team and served as class president until his graduation in 1952.
He married his wife Shelly when he was 25 years old, changing his last name to “Sterling” at that point. He claimed that his last name was hard to pronounce, and that he believed he would have better financial prospects with the name “Sterling.”
Sterling started his legal career in 1961, beginning as a divorce and personal injury attorney. He came to prominence during a time when Jewish attorneys had a hard time finding steady work at law firms, so Sterling struck out on his own. He also began a few real estate ventures, starting with the purchase of a 26-unit apartment complex in Beverly Hills.
Donald Sterling became the owner of the San Diego Clippers in 1981, having bought the struggling team from Jerry Buss (former owner of the LA Lakers). He vowed to make the team profitable, sparing no expense to get them there. Sterling’s Clippers struggled through 33 years of Sterling ownership, losing at times up to 50 games in a season.
Sterling is no stranger to controversy. The NBA fined him in 1982, after he made public comments stating he wanted his team to place last so they could get the leg up in drafting. In his older years, he has also become embroiled in a dispute over ownership of the team itself. Shelly and Donald are still settling this matter in court.