Clipped (2024): The True Story Behind the Hulu Show, Explained

The Hulu miniseries ‘Clipped’ dramatizes the 2013-14 season of the famous basketball team Los Angeles Clippers, on and off the court. Revolving around one of the biggest scandals in the history of the NBA that aroused anger among the public, the series concerns Donald Sterling’s scandalous tenure as the owner after a tape containing his preposterous opinions was leaked to the media.

Creator Gina Welch based her show on the ’30 for 30′ podcast episode ‘The Sterling Affairs,’ originally recorded by ESPN sportswriter Ramona Shelburne, ensuring a grasp on accuracy. With a compelling narrative that authentically mixes accuracy with drama, viewers are expected to wonder which parts are works of fiction and which ones are based on the true story. Spoilers Ahead.

Clipped: Donald Sterling’s Outrageous Remarks

‘Clipped’ offers a dramatized yet insightful look into the Sterling scandal, blending true events with a little creativity to simultaneously engage and guide viewers into the issues of racism and power dynamics to the forefront. The series stars Ed O’Neill as Donald Sterling, a real estate tycoon who purchased the Clippers in 1981 and later relocated it to Los Angeles from its previous San Diego metropolitan. Over the decades, Sterling faced multiple accusations for his notorious behavior as a complex and controversial owner, not that they affected his role in either the franchise or the NBA.

Image Credit: CNN/YouTube

As seen in the series, Sterling’s tenure experienced its biggest challenge when recordings of Sterling making racist comments were leaked to TMZ by his rumored mistress, V. Stiviano, in 2014. The alleged comments arrived in a serious argument between the couple in which Sterling purportedly asked her not to post pictures with Black and Hispanic people on Instagram or bring them to Clippers games, dismissing her friendly association with NBA legend Magic Johnson. The fallout from the leak was immediate and severe.

Subsequent events mark the very basis of the Hulu series, which extensively takes place in April 2014, when Sterling was accused of racism and discrimination, both in his real estate business and in his treatment of players and staff. Amidst all the public outrage, the NBA, under Commissioner Adam Silver, acted swiftly, and Sterling was banned for life from the NBA, fined $2.5 million, and forced to sell the Clippers.

Who is V. Stiviano? Why Did She Tape Sterling?

Cleopatra Coleman stars in ‘Clipped’ as the female lead, appearing as V. Stiviano, a central figure in the scandal. Though the Hulu show also provides her fictional backstory to explain her desire to live a luxurious life, Stiviano’s actual background remains shrouded in mystery, except for her real name — Maria Vanessa Perez — which she changed as part of a broader effort to create a new identity in the glamorous but cutthroat world of Los Angeles. Her connection to Sterling began in the early 2010s when she entered his life as an assistant. The series reflects her career as the assistant and her interactions with Clippers staff members, including coach Doc Rivers. It also teases the possibility of Stiviano having gone through heavy research to understand the business, raising the overall dramatic tone.

The nature of Stiviano and Sterling’s relationship quickly became a subject of intense speculation in the media, with multiple pieces of evidence suggesting they were even closer. As empathized in the adaptation, Sterling lavished Stiviano with expensive gifts, luxury cars, designer clothes, and a duplex, indirectly fuelling the rumors of their alleged affair. Angered by her disregard, Donald’s wife, Rochelle “Shelly” Sterling, had her followed on suspicions of embezzling community property by accepting extravagant gifts from Donald Sterling.

Legal battles ensued, and in 2016, a judge ordered Stiviano to return several million dollars worth of gifts to the Sterling family trust. With Jacki Weaver in the role of Shelly, ‘Clipped’ incorporates this lawsuit as a major plot point in the series, paving the way for the recordings. In the television adaptation, it is maintained that Stiviano had prior knowledge of Shelley’s plans to extract her properties, and that, in turn, lays the foundation for her plot of revenge.

Coleman also portrays Stiviano as having plausible psychopathic tendencies. The character is displayed to be obsessed with matching the lifestyles of the Kardashian sisters and delusionally perceives herself as Sterling’s “right-hand arm.” She is also shown demeaning Jacki and claiming the businessman will divorce the latter to be with her, though neither woman factually claimed such declarations, with Stiviano even denying the reports of sexual relations with Sterling. The series showcases her meticulously setting Sterling up, planning her moves ahead of the crucial 9-minute conversation.

Though the validity of Sterling’s identity in the tapes has never been officially questioned or proven, creator Gina Welch flat-out features the pivotal scene with O’Neill physically embodying the team owner’s supposed expressions and delivering the controversial statements. In reality, Stiviano has maintained her stance on not being responsible for leaking the recordings, though she accepted those were legitimate. She added that she recorded Sterling with his knowledge and consent, purportedly to protect herself from potential legal troubles, albeit shown in the adaptation as a measure of his forgetful memory. On the contrary, Sterling allegedly told DuJour Magazine that he should’ve just paid her off, suggesting her sole motive could only have been financial gains.

Since blackmailing Sterling for a recording when the damage was already done seemed futile, Stiviano likely didn’t have further materialistic gains from the tycoon. Her means to get even still creates questions on her objectives that we might never find answers to unless, as shown in the series, his termination from the prestigious league was sufficient reward for her. Either way, her involvement in exposing Sterling’s alleged racism positioned Stiviano at the center of one of the biggest sports scandals in recent history. As showcased in the limited series, she covered her face with a large visor to avoid confronting the paparazzi and disabled her social media accounts.

Doc Rivers Led Clippers to Their Best-Ever Season Amidst the Controversy

The miniseries stars Lawrence Fishburne as former player and NBA All-Star Doc Rivers, who was brought in to coach the team for the 2013-14 season, a turning point in the franchise’s history. The series rightfully shows Rivers’ point-of-view on the events as the coach not only handled the responsibilities to change the Clippers’ fortune but also witnessed Sterling’s mistreatment of his race from the closest seat. Rivers declared that he would not move ahead with his contract if Sterling were to retain any involvement with the team. He was also consulted by Adam Silver before the latter reached his verdict to remove Sterling from the sport altogether.

In addition to being the coach, Rivers was also appointed senior vice president of basketball operations and later promoted to president until parting ways in 2020. He led the team to continue playing the season amidst dark clouds and speculations of a possible boycott and protest. The team had large support from fellow NBA players, including LeBron James, but only once showed protest by turning their warm-up jerseys inside out. The series also covers Rivers’ real-life heroics, like standing up with employees subjected to the public’s fury for mere association with Sterling.

The series sheds significant light on the Clippers’ roster, featuring star players like Chris Paul (J. Alphonse Nicholson), Blake Griffin (Austin Scott), and DeAndre Jordan (Sheldon Bailey), all of whom discuss the matter extensively. The controversy significantly affected the team’s morale and focus during the playoffs, as they felt intense media scrutiny and uproar while trying to stay focused on their championship aspirations. This difficult period is vividly captured in ‘Clipped,’ mirroring the real-life challenges the team had to overcome. Despite the scandal, the Clippers managed to maintain a strong performance during the regular season, finishing with a record 57 wins, though the glory players and coach received was fatally overshadowed by Donald Sterling’s disgraceful comments.

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