From Podcast to Screen: How FX’s "Clipped" Brings the Sterling Scandal to Life

The year is 2014. Serena Williams won her 18th Grand Slam, LeBron James returned home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup. But the sports world was shaken to its core when a recording was leaked of Donald Sterling, the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers making racist comments to his then-assistant V. Stiviano. The leak forced the NBA and its fans to confront racial tensions that have been lying under the surface of the NBA for years. Now 10 years later, FX’s limited series “Clipped” profiles how the lives of V. Stiviano, Doc Rivers, Shelly Sterling, Donald Sterling, and the rest of the Clippers organization had to reconcile with the consequences of the inaction of one of the most dysfunctional franchises in sports.

Viewers are transported into the Clippers’ locker room to witness the portrayals of the difficult conversations the players had to make when the Sterling tape was leaked. In an interview with the Hoopsology Podcast, J. Alphonse Nicholson who plays Chris Paul stated he knew the story had many uncomfortable moments but he felt the series was able to add lighter moments to the story. 

“CLIPPED” — Pictured: Laurence Fishburne as Doc Rivers. CR: FX

“There's a thin line, you know that you play with it. And I think we were able to kind of jump to both sides. So it's like, hey, we'll make you laugh. But yeah, we'll make you cry and think a lot as well,” Nicholson said.

“Clipped” is based on the 30 for 30 podcast, “The Sterling Affairs” which is hosted by ESPN senior writer Ramona Shelburne. The critically acclaimed podcast received much interest in adapting it into a scripted television series. After vetting a variety of different writers, the responsibility to bring the story to life fell to Gina Welch who became, the showrunner, executive producer, and writer of several episodes. 

While talking to the Hoopsology Podcast, Shelburne explained how being heavily involved in the creation of “Sterling Affairs” created anticipation to see her podcast come to life via a narrative told on television. 

“It was kind of fun to sit back and just, you know, do what they needed me to do as a producer on this and as a consultant, but also just kind of let them do their Hollywood magic,” Shelburne stated.

The media have mostly reported Donald Sterling’s former personal assistant V. Stiviano in a one-dimensional manner. Shelburne praised “Clipped” for making Stiviano relatable by showing key scenes with her children, managing her food truck, and balancing her new fame with her personal life.

“I'm glad that we were able to humanize her character because she really is such an interesting character in person. And I think she's so important to the show, because you have to think about like, none of this happens without her. None of what happens to Donald Sterling, to the NBA, to the players, to all the characters involved, happens without her making that tape,” Shelburne said. 

During its portrayal of the 2013-14 Los Angeles Clippers playoff campaign, "Clipped" depicted actors embodying Blake Griffin, JJ Redick, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan navigating Donald Sterling's disruptive behavior in their quest for an NBA championship. With the series obligated to depict multiple basketball scenes, Nicholson was impressed with how much due diligence the production put into making sure the basketball looked as realistic as possible.

“And then Gina and her team, they were very specific about the plays that we were running and capturing. So they had all real plays, all real shots. And so that became much like a choreography almost to where we had to kind of rotate and practice those plays multiple times. And then we had some great stunt doubles who came in there and made it look top-tier,” Nicholson said.

Laurence Fishburne, who portrayed Doc Rivers, was tasked to give confidence and authority while showing the vulnerability of Rivers. To accomplish this Fishburne, who had limited sports knowledge had to meet with Rivers to capture his essence as a head coach.

“And it turned out he's really not a sports fan and doesn't really know much about it, but he and Doc actually did get together. I think they went to some barbecue, either it was either at Lawrence's house or Doc's house, and they bonded in their own way. You know, they connected so he had a feel for who Doc was,” Shelburne said.

The aftermath of the Sterling scandal resulted in Donald Sterling being banned from the NBA and owners having to increase their awareness of their public image. The league now features prominent owners like Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia and Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, who face heightened scrutiny in the eyes of public perception.

“I think there is a lot more accountability in life and there's a lot more recognition that something you say or do can have very big consequences outside of the realm that you're in. And to me, at least, that's a really big difference,” Ramona said.

Viewers of FX’s "Clipped," currently available on Hulu, will witness how the leaked Donald Sterling audio was one of the first controversies to garner strong reactions from social media.

“Social media, the Internet, this was all very new back in 2014. Like we had Twitter, we had social media back then, but it was very, it was still quite new. And this idea of going viral, this idea that like an audio tape or a story could just kind of take over the monoculture, take over the world. That was all new in 2014. Now we're kind of used to it,” Ramona said.

As "Clipped" concludes its narrative on Hulu with its final episode, the Donald Sterling scandal continues to illustrate how a private moment could resonate profoundly and have far-reaching consequences in the era of social media.

The author of this article is Justin Goodrum. He is a sportswriter, podcast host, and producer of the Hoopsology Podcast. Justin currently resides in Denver, Colorado. He graduated from the University of New Mexico with a degree in Journalism.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *