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FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2010, file photo, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, third right, sits with V. Stiviano, left, as they watch the Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles. NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced Tuesday, April 29, 2014, that he is banning the owner for life from the Clippers organization over racist comments in recording. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok, File)
Monson: Meet the Jazz’s Donald Stirling — an all-around good guy

NBA » He grew up around the Raiders, writes song lyrics, worked for Mitt Romney and loves the NBA

By Gordon Monson

| Tribune Columnist

First Published May 06 2014 12:59 pm • Last Updated May 06 2014 11:15 pm

OK, right from the opening jump, let’s get the name thing out of the way.

Donald Stirling is not a racist, has not been kicked out of the NBA by commissioner Adam Silver, has never had a girlfriend named V. Stiviano, has never placed ads for attractive women to show up at parties at his Malibu mansion with his Hollywood friends, has never been sued for mistreating minority tenants, has never had a couple billion dollars in the bank, and hasn’t become a national embarrassment for an entire league.

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But he has lived a rich life in sports, has graduated from BYU, has worked for the NBA, has bummed around Los Angeles while mowing lawns and writing Top 40 songs, has worked with artists like Sam Cardon and Kurt Bestor, has run a Super PAC for Mitt Romney and would have ended up working in the White House as director of something or other had Romney beaten Barack Obama in 2012, and now is back in sports, again, loving the Utah Jazz and working as chief revenue officer for Miller Sports Properties — the company that oversees the Jazz.

Amazing the difference one vowel can make.

Google "Donald Stirling" and you get: "Did you mean: Donald Sterling?"

There may be no "I" in team, but Stirling is 10 freeway exits past thrilled there’s a nicely placed "I" in his name. Only Vladimir Fock could relate to the relative sanctuary of one letter like Stirling can.

"It’s been strange over the past two weeks, the texts and emails I’ve gotten," he says. "It remains surreal to hear your name on every SportsCenter, every broadcast, every social media outlet. Surreal."

Utah’s Donald S. has a better story to tell.

He was born into sports, really, his father, Scotty, having been a longtime sports writer for the Oakland Tribune. Not only did Scotty cover the Raiders, and later become general manager for the team, he and two others are credited with creating fantasy football, sketching out rudiments of the concept more than 50 years ago in a hotel room while on a road trip to New York.

"If he’d had a patent on that, I wouldn’t have had to work much in my life," Stirling laughs.

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Scotty was GM for the Raiders back when the AFL and NFL were fighting over players. He once camped out at Florida State for three weeks, trying to lure a receiver by the name of Fred Biletnikoff to sign with them.

"That was back in the days when guys would walk in with an attaché case filled with cash and hand it over to players if they signed," Stirling says. "It was wild stuff."

Stirling, now 57, remembers as a 5th-grader heading to Super Bowl II, when the Raiders played the Packers. His father and Al Davis eventually had a falling out over bonus money, and Scotty moved on to work for the old ABA’s Oakland Oaks, then hosted a drive-time sports show in the mid-’70s, a forerunner of modern sports talk radio so popular today. Thereafter, he became general manager of the Golden State Warriors until being hired by the NBA as vice president of operations in the 1980s.

It was in that environment that Don Stirling was reared and raised, although his path to sports was re-routed by a dream to become a songwriter. He was musically challenged — "Couldn’t sing or play a lick," he says — but he loved to write lyrics. After graduating from BYU in 1981, Stirling moved to L.A. where he and a friend gardened by day and wrote music by night.

Eventually Phil Everly, half of the famous Everly Brothers, cut a couple of Stirling’s songs, including one, "Who’s Going to Keep Me Warm," that Stirling wrote in the library at BYU. That song went to No. 36 on the Billboard country chart.

"It was cool," Stirling says. "We had our fun."

When Stirling got married in 1982, he said his dad told him: "You’d better get a real job now."

His career path from that time caromed from selling insurance for JC Penney and New York Life back to sports. He took a job for a brief stint working for the Denver Nuggets before being hired by NBA Properties in New York City, where he stayed from 1983 to 1986. During that stretch, Blake Roney, a college friend of Stirling’s, asked the NBA exec if he wanted to help him get a promising new enterprise off the ground — something called Nu Skin — and Stirling declined. That decision may have cost him a few hundred million dollars.

After becoming marketing director for the LPGA for two years, Stirling went back to the NBA until 1991. Then, he moved to Utah, working for the Children’s Miracle Network, writing more songs and managing the business affairs of Cardon and Bestor.

Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge, whom Stirling had befriended and later talked into investing money in one of his music projects — "I knew it was a high-risk investment," Ainge says, "I own a very expensive CD of his" — and with whom Stirling has spent hours through the years debating NBA personnel moves, says Stirling’s music was good, but his basketball acumen was better.

"Don loves the game," Ainge says. "He loves it."

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