POSTED: May 9, 2014 3:14 PM ET
Dick Parsons does not want to own the Los Angeles Clippers.
"I'm an old guy now," the 66-year-old Parsons said in a brief phone conversation Friday. "I want to spend more time with my grandkids than sitting in the owner's box."
But Parsons will be in charge of the Clippers for the next few months, after the NBA appointed him the interim CEO with decision-making authority to run the team, in concert with coach Doc Rivers. Parsons will be in California next week to start his new position.
Parsons, the former chair of Citicorp and the former chair and CEO of Time Warner (the parent company of Turner Sports and NBA.com), was the NBA's choice to help steward the Clippers, in the midst of the Western Conference semifinals with Oklahoma City, through the controversy created by owner Donald Sterling's racially inflammatory remarks made public last month. Sterling was banned for life by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, and the league is proceeding with plans to remove Sterling as the team's owner.
Earlier this week, the league announced the team's longtime president, Andy Roeser, was taking an indefinite leave of absence to allow the interim CEO the ability to make decisions freely.
"The short story is I got a call on Monday from the Commissioner's office to see if I could come down and see Adam," Parsons said. "He outlined the dilemma and his thinking about it and asked me if I was willing to help out and step into this role. I am a fan. With all due respect to baseball -- and I used to run Time Warner when they owned the Braves...basketball has become, let's put it this way, on equal standing. I'm a big fan.
"Secondly, Adam is a good man. And he's trying to do the right thing, especially with a big issue that's, frankly, more important than the Clippers or the NBA. It's resonated globally in terms of an important issue. He asked if I could help, and my wife said fine—you always have to check at home."
Parsons's story as one of the top African-American executives in the business world over the last decade would resonate on its own. That the league chose him in the midst of Sterling's comments was hardly happenstance in all likelihood, but his career stacks up with anyone's.
Parsons has spent the last two-plus decades in some of the highest profile positions in the business world. He helped Dime Bank survive the Savings and Loan crisis in the late 1980s, then became chair of Time Warner as the company prepared to merge with America Online in 2000. The subsequent AOL Time Warner was a significant business failure, however, with Time Warner breaking off from AOL in 2009.
Parsons stepped down as CEO of Time Warner in 2007. He became chairman of Citigroup in 2009, helping that company through the financial crisis of the last decade before announcing his retirement in 2012.
Recently, Parsons helped bankroll the renovation of Minton's Playhouse, the historic jazz club in Harlem that featured Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk as regular performers in the 1940s and '50s.
Parsons said that while "it was not exactly a 9/11 moment" when he first heard Sterling's remarks. "But I was like, he didn't say that," Parsons said. "Not in this day and age. Certainly there was disbelief. My reaction was probably the same as yours."
Parsons is ready to hit the ground running.
"Somebody has to be in charge," he said. "It's an organization, and it functions like other organizations. There has to be a leader, somebody who decides do we go left, do we go right, do we go up, do we go down, puts his arm around the people who are involved and tell them that they're appreciated. I hope I can do that."
He had not met Rivers until they spoke on the phone Friday, but expects no problems working with Rivers, who has had ultimate authority over all basketball decisions since coming to Los Angeles last summer.
"We had a good chat," Parsons said. "Every organization needs an ultimate leader. That doesn't mean the ultimate leader has to make all the calls. You hopefully play people where they have their strengths, skills and abilities. His strengths, skills and abilities are obviously in basketball. What I've said to him is in my early background in law, I love and embrace the partnership approach to management. But at the end of the day, the CEO has to sign off on all the decisions."
The NBA's Advisory and Finance Committee met for a second time Wednesday to discuss the process going forward for removing Sterling. The Committee is certain to recommend removing Sterling, the league's longest-tenured owner (1981), with the league's Board of Governors expected to meet soon after. Three-fourths, or 23, of the league's 30 owners are required to vote yes to remove Donald Sterling as owner.
Donald Sterling has said he will not sell the team, and a legal battle between him and the NBA seems inevitable.
Adding to the intrigue is that Donald Sterling's wife, Shelley Stirling, said this week she hopes to remain on in a co-ownership capacity with a new owner when and if the team is sold. Shelley Sterling currently has a 50 percent ownership stake in the Clippers.
Rivers said Thursday that it would be "a very hard situation" going forward if Shelley Sterling, who was named as a co-defendant with her husband in a 2006 lawsuit accusing the Sterlings of racial housing discrimination, remained with the team. The suit accused Shelley Sterling of also making disparaging remarks about African-Americans as well as Latinos. It was settled, with the Sterlings making no admission of guilt as a condition of the settlement.
Several high-profile names, including Oprah Winfrey, David Geffen, Magic Johnson and boxer Floyd Mayweather, have said they're interested in buying the Clippers, which industry experts believe could go for more than $1 billion on the open market. Parsons said that while he has no long-term plans to remain in the NBA, he'll stay on the job as long as necessary.
"Go back to the question you asked: It really has to do with the moment, and the importance of the issue, and supporting somebody who's doing the right thing in Adam," Parsons said.