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When the Los Angeles Lakers got a prestige HBO mini-series in “Winning Time,” it seemed only a matter of time before that other team in the City of Angels got in on the action. Sadly, the most interesting recent story in the history of the Los Angeles Clippers happened mostly off the court. After years of accusations that the owner of the Clippers since 1981, Donald Sterling, saw his players as something he owned, the ceiling came off his grotesque worldview in April 2014 when a recording was released of the irascible old man castigating his assistant/mistress V. Stiviano for being too friendly to Black people (particularly Magic Johnson). 

The resulting uproar not only might have led to the Clippers' exit by the Warriors from that year’s postseason but sparked a conversation about a sport wherein white owners make millions of dollars off the work of teams made up mainly of Black players. It’s dramatically fertile ground for a mini-series, and FX’s “Clipped” takes some exciting approaches to telling a complex story about privilege, race, wealth, and fame. They don’t all work—one branch of this story’s tree gets more time than it needs, and an episode-long flashback, while ambitious, bites off more than it can chew. But there are strong performances throughout “Clipped” and sharp dialogue that trusts viewers to consider the society-shaping dynamics coursing through this true story.

“Clipped” is told from three perspectives, and Donald Sterling's isn’t really one of them. Sure, "Modern Family" star Ed O’Neill gets to chew a lot of scenery as the crotchety old man who has never really paused to consider his place in the sports hierarchy. The version of Sterling here is that of a blindered troll who is in the ownership game not for the love of basketball but because he has enough money to be in it and likes the privilege and prestige it brings. But the team behind “Clipped” wisely don’t spend too much time with someone whose part of this story lacks nuance (because the real person did too). Sterling was gross and probably should have been booted from his privileged peak long before he yelled about Magic Johnson having AIDS on CNN. His story isn’t that interesting.

The viewpoints from which we see the Sterling saga are those held by coach Doc Rivers (Laurence Fishburne), Stiviano (Cleopatra Coleman), and Sterling’s wife Shelley (Jacki Weaver), who the show asserts got all of these balls rolling when she tried to suppress Stiviano’s role in her husband’s life, going as far as to sue her to retrieve property obtained through her relationship. Naturally, Doc’s story is the most interesting, a former Clipper who was brought in to coach the team at the start of the 2013-2014 season after his success in Boston, only to stumble into one of the biggest sports stories of the year. Fishburne plays Rivers with a perfect air of quiet intelligence, the kind of guy who knows how to read people—as any great coach must—and how to lead men.

Of course, the players on that 2014 Clippers team have to have a voice here too. NBA fans will be interested in eavesdropping on conversations between the players regarding how to handle the situation, including Austin Scott as Blake Griffin, Charlie McElveen as JJ Redick, J. Alphonse Nicholson as Chris Paul, and especially Sheldon Bailey as DeAndre Jordan, who the show portrays as one of the most conflicted players regarding whether or not he even wanted to compete in the playoffs anymore. Strong performances sprout up throughout the supporting cast, including “Billions” vet Kelly AuCoin as Sterling’s right-hand man Andy Roeser, Corbin Bernsen as Shelley’s attorney Pierce O’Donnell, “Mad Men” vet Rich Sommer as beleaguered PR guy Seth Burton, Harriet Sansom Harris as Shelley’s ally Justine, a great Clifton Davis as Elgin Baylor, and LeVar Burton as himself, who apparently counseled Doc in their high-priced apartment building’s sauna.

If it all sounds like a lot for a six-episode mini-series, that’s one of the reasons “Clipped” works in an era of television seasons that are almost always too long. This one is packed with memorable characters and ideas, not content to merely rehash what people remember about the Sterling drama but seeking to offer a new perspective on its players. Coleman’s take on Stiviano is particularly fascinating, refusing to play her as a vengeful gold digger as she tries to figure out a truly strange woman who wore a face-covering visor when she spoke to the press as if she didn’t want to be seen but wanted little more than to be as famous as Kim Kardashian. I'm not sure Coleman fully gets to the bottom of Stiviano, but the effort is never boring. The trio of troublemakers in “Clipped”—Donald, Shelley, and Stiviano—are all presented as creatures of the L.A. fame circuit, with the Sterlings unwilling to leave it and V. desperate to join it. Donald Sterling’s potential dementia plays an inevitable role. Still, the show is careful not to let him off the hook while also thankfully recognizing that his ouster from the NBA didn’t solve all the racism in the Association.

The only major flaw with “Clipped” is the amount of time spent circling many of the same drains with Weaver’s Shelley. While it’s a strong performance, her angle on this story isn’t as interesting as the writers think, given how much time they devote to it. More time in the locker room or with the cadre of people trying to keep the Sterling empire from collapsing (like AuCoin and Sommer’s characters) might have led to more balance. Then again, the Sterlings were the kind of people who always thought they were the center of every story. So maybe it makes sense that they are for one last time.

Whole series screened for review. Premieres on FX on June 4th.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Film Credits

Clipped movie poster

Clipped (2024)


Laurence Fishburne as Doc Rivers

Ed O'Neill as Donald Sterling

Jacki Weaver as Shelly Sterling

Cleopatra Coleman as V. Stiviano

Corbin Bernsen as Pierce O'Donnell



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