LOS ANGELES (AP) — The interim CEO of the Los Angeles Clippers testified Tuesday that coach Doc Rivers told him he will quit if Donald Sterling remains the owner of the team.
CEO Richard Parsons made the statement at a trial to determine whether Sterling's wife Shelly Sterling can sell the team for $2 billion to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
The NBA has tried to force out Donald Sterling since soon after racist statements emerged on recordings in April.
"Doc is troubled by this maybe moreso than anybody else," Parsons said on the witness stand about Rivers, who is black. "If Mr. Sterling continues as owner, he does not want to continue as coach."
Parsons said he fears there would also be an exodus of key players, including team captain Chris Paul, who also is black and heads the NBA players union.
Parsons was about to give an account of his conversations with Paul but was stopped by an objection by an NBA lawyer who said it would be an invasion of privacy. The judge upheld the objection.
Rivers has said he had heard from other Clippers business employees that they didn't think they would be able to work for Sterling under the circumstances.
Parsons is a former chief executive at Time Warner and Citigroup who took over leadership of the Clippers in May during the media blitz surrounding the banishment of Sterling.
Under questioning by Ballmer's lawyer, Parsons said the departure of Rivers would begin "a death spiral" for the Clippers.
"If Doc were to leave, that would be a disaster," Parsons said. "Doc is the father figure, the one who leads. He's the coach. He's the grown-up. He is able to connect with people and earn their trust. The team believes in him and loves him.
"If he were to leave, that is only going to accelerate the death spiral," Parson said.
The discussion of Clippers players and coaches is new territory for the trial that has mostly explored the dealings between the Sterlings.
It wasn't immediately clear what effect the new information might have on the narrow question under consideration of whether Shelly Sterling can sell the team under the family trust.
Messages left for team officials seeking comment from Rivers weren't immediately returned.
Parsons, who is considered an expert in the management of major corporations, said he was certain that sponsors would pull out and season ticket holders would demand their money back if Donald Sterling remains as owner.
"If your coach leaves, if your players don't want to play with you, what do you have?" Parsons asked. "If your sponsors leave and the fans leave, it's going to spiral down and down."
He said key sponsors such as Mandalay Bay Resorts in Las Vegas are cold about whether they will continue, as are other companies including Kia Motors Corp.
"We have a bunch of sponsors sitting at the edge of the pool and they don't want to go in if the Sterlings are there," Parsons said.
Parsons also said he doesn't believe that anyone will offer as much money for the team as Ballmer.
The high-stakes financial fight centers on whether Shelly Sterling was authorized to make a deal with Ballmer on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust.
While she was negotiating, Donald Sterling revoked the trust, a move designed to rescind his signed agreement for the sale of the Clippers, which he bought for just $12 million.
He announced from the witness stand earlier in the trial that he would never sell the team and would be suing the NBA for the rest of his life.