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Pro basketball unsure about allowing lowly Clippers to set sail for Los Angeles

The Hotel del Corando, built shortly after Custer's Last Stand and the spot where Wally Simpson met the Prince of Wales, played host to yet another group of celebrities earlier this week. That would be the august body of owners who make up the Board of Governors of the National Basketball Association.

Meeting in executive session to decide whether to grant financially-troubled San Diego Owner Donald Sterling permission to move his franchise to Los Angeles, the Governors found themselves hamstrung by the complex legal structure of today's world. Rather than risk a lawsuit with any kind of immediate firm decision, they didn't say yes and they didn't say no.

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Instead they asked a federal court for a declaration of the league's right regarding the proposed shift of Sterling's almost rudderless Clippers to the Los Angeles Sports Arena. They also asked $10 million in damages from the LA Coliseum Commission, which controls the Sports Arena, for going after the Clippers as a tenant without first asking the NBA for permission.

If a Sterling move from San Diego to LA were approved, it would dock the Clippers only 10 miles away from the Forum, the home of Jerry Buss's world champion Los Angeles Lakers. Even though Buss has the veto power to invoke a league rule that no other NBA franchise can move within a 75 mile radius of his operation, this might not stand up if challenged in a federal court.

The ideal situation, of course, would be for Sterling, whose popularity in San Diego is at a low ebb right now, to sell his franchise and get out - something he probably would be more than willing to consider at this point.

One of the chief reasons Sterling (who bought the Clippers in May, 1981 from Irv Levin) lost his credibility so quickly in San Diego, is indicated by a paragraph that appeared under his picture in the team's Media Guide.

It reads: ''I'm a very positive, confident and enthusiastic person and I will win with this team. Being in San Diego excites me. I think San Diego is a great city. I will never sell the Clippers. I have never sold anything I have ever bought. The Clippers are my team forever - and, hopefully, my son's after me. I'm a long-term person. I'm going to make San Diego proud of the Clippers.''

Already there are reports that the NBA has been given the name of a prospective buyer for the San Diego franchise. He is said to be wealthy enough to accept the $7 million in operating losses the team will probably have over the next 24 months while getting its house in order.

Meanwhile, the NBA has voted to form a committee within two weeks to investigate: (1) the past conduct of Sterling as a league owner; (2) Sterling's business relationships (outside basketball) with Lakers owner Jerry Buss and associate Frank Mariana and Sam Nassi; and (3) whether LA can financially support two NBA teams.

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Going back to the league's interest in Sterling, Buss, Mariana and Nassi; it stems from their involvement with each other in huge real estate deals over the past few years.

Only one NBA team (Cleveland) had a worse won-lost record last season than the Clippers, who finished with a 17-65 mark and won only six games all year on the road.

San Diego's biggest problem was on defense, where it gave up an average of 116 points per game and was outrebounded by all but three NBA teams. Part of this was because the Clippers' best center, Swen Nater, played in only 21 games because of injuries. But basically it was not a team that ever fit well together.

Although the Sterling Caper dwarfed everything else that occured during the Governor's meetings, Detroit General Manager Jack McCloskey's proposal of a split-season got a surpisingly deep burial. Once Boston's Red Auerbach tied the word ''gimmick'' to the idea of a split-season, the proposal got nowhere.

Auerbach also reportedly began preliminary talks with the Phoenix Suns that would net the Boston Celtics guard Dennis Johnson in exchange for the rights to center Dave Cowens, who says he is coming out of retirement.

There were also rumors that the Phoenix Suns were close to a deal with Kansas City that would put forward Truck Robinson into a Kings uniform in return for forward Reggie King. And the Indiana Pacers are said to be demanding cash or a draft choice from the Chicago Bulls before they will release Head Coach Jack McKinney to the Windy City.

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