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February 12, 2009 3:55 PM

Manatt On L.A. Clippers Team in Elgin Baylor Lawsuit

Posted by Zach Lowe

The Am Law Daily is one of the few National Basketball Association junkies left, so we were naturally interested when one of the basketball's true legends, Elgin Baylor, filed a lawsuit Wednesday accusing the Los Angeles Clippers of forcing him out of his management job last year and fostering a hostile environment.

Baylor, who played all of his NBA games with the Lakers franchise--first in Minneapolis and then in Los Angeles--spent 22 years as a Clippers executive, including several as the team's general manager.

He left the team after a tense 2008 season during which bitter divisions reportedly formed between Baylor, Clips owner Donald Sterling, and the team's coach, Mike Dunleavy. Now Baylor claims he was forced out, and that the Clippers ran a "plantation-type" business. Among the 74-year-old Baylor's allegations, according to the Los Angeles Times: that Sterling and Clippers employees made racist comments and discriminated against older employees. (Baylor also names the league in his suit.)

Baylor's lawyer is Carl Douglas, a Beverly Hills, Calif., attorney who used to work for Johnnie Cochran. The Clips turned to Robert Platt of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, the team's general outside counsel for the last 21 years. (Platt says he got that job after Arn Tellem, the Manatt lawyer who formed the relationship with the Clippers, left the firm to become a player agent.)

Platt declined to comment on the merits of the case, but he told the Times that Baylor's claims are "ridiculous" and said the Clips treated Baylor "fairly."

Basketball junkies will note that Baylor's suit mentions comments Sterling allegedly made about Danny Manning, the University of Kansas star selected by the Clips with the first pick of the 1988 draft. Baylor's suit claims Sterling referred to Manning as a "poor black boy," and that Sterling wanted a team of "poor black boys" coached by a white man. 

Baylor's suit also says the Clips underpaid him; he made $350,000 per year during his final contract with the team, while Dunleavy, who is now the GM, earns more than $5 million per year. 

Douglas did not return a message seeking comment. 

For fans who want to know more about Baylor's fascinating career--including the racism he faced on road trips and the season when he played only on weekends--we highly recommend this column by ESPN's Bill Simmons.

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