The issue, of course, is whether you want the money paid for a Clippers ticket to go into Donny Tokowitz’s pocket. That was Donald Sterling’s birth name, as the son of a produce dealer in East Los Angeles, and it nauseates people that a racist could profit from an NBA playoff game predominantly involving African-American players he openly loathes. As a human being, it’s tempting to take a robust stand and leave a purchased seat empty for Game 5 of the Clippers-Golden State series, wanting to make a statement at Staples Center for the greater good.
“If it was me, I wouldn’t come to the game,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “I believe as fans, the loudest statement they could make as far as fans is to not show up to the game. As an African-American man that’s a fan of the game of basketball and knows its history and knows what’s right and what’s wrong, I would not come to the game whether I was a Clipper fan or a Warrior fan.’’
But then, why would you want Donny Tokowitz to spoil your fun?
Beyond the compelling basketball story of a heated Clippers-Warriors rivalry is this glowing truth about the 2014 playoffs as a whole: They’ve been terrific. I can’t remember an opening round with so many rich dramas, as a March Madness-like, anything’s-possible feel permeates a tournament without an obvious favorite. The Spurs, given an excellent chance only a week ago of overcoming last June’s failure and winning their fifth championship of the Popovich-Duncan era, have been put on the ropes by the Dallas Mavericks, fueled by Vince Carter’s game-winning heave at the buzzer in Game 4. The Pacers, the East’s top seed, continued their dysfunctional three-month freefall with a blowout loss in Game 5, meaning the 38-44 Atlanta Hawks are one victory from a historic “upset’’ that would end Frank Vogel’s career as Indiana’s coach. The league’s MVP, Kevin Durant, is being worn down by the harassing defense of Memphis’ Tony Allen, and with no reliable No. 3 scorer beyond Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder may be purged in the first round by a Grizzlies team that barely made the playoffs. Only the Miami Heat have no worries at the moment, able to rest Dwyane Wade for days after sweeping Charlotte. LeBron James, normally inundated by all forms of humanity this time of year, actually is lonely as Sterling and the other series capture attention spans.
We’ve seen seven overtime games already, three in a fantastic Trail Blazers-Rockets series that has launched LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard as national breakthrough stars and raised hopes that a team like Portland — given the issues of the Spurs, Thunder and Grizzlies — could emerge from a rugged Western Conference.
Twenty-one of the 33 playoff games through Monday have entered what NBA.com described as “clutch time’’ — a five-point margin or less in the final five minutes of regulation. And the best theater of all likely awaits in a Clippers-Warriors series that, before the Sterling scandal, featured two rivals who trade barbs and elbows.
So why would you let old Donny Tokowitz interfere with such a high level of entertainment? I explained in another column on this site why the Clippers shouldn’t boycott, why a unified show of strength in winning a championship would be a much prouder form of revenge against Sterling and the world’s haters. Coach Doc Rivers still isn’t sure what his players might do as a possible protest before Game 5, amid a Yahoo Sports report that the presentation could be stronger than Sunday’s symbolic removal of their Clippers warmup jerseys and the wearing of black socks and wristbands. RIvers is trying to maintain an equilibrium while acknowledging, as an African-American, that he’s as furious as anyone about Sterling’s comments.
It’s vital that NBA commissioner Adam Silver, at the very least, announces at a morning news conference that Sterling has been suspended indefinitely and fined the $1-million maximum while the league aggressively tries to force his ouster in the coming weeks. Silver’s predecessor, David Stern, is guilty with the league’s owners of enabling Sterling’s reign of racial terror by not taking previous steps to oust him.
“Clearly, there’s things that have happened, but I don’t know what they could have done in the past,” said Rivers, who has no doubt the voice on the tape belongs to his boss. “I know now that there seems to be proof that they can do something now. And so I’m not worried about the past — I’m worried about now and how we handle this. I think this is going to be handled the right way. I really have a lot of faith in Adam and the league.”
So unless Silver responds with a wishy-washy statement, my suggestion would be to forget this Donald Sterling ogre and watch the Clippers — and the playoffs in general — for the same reasons you always do. If the playoffs are more entertaining than ever, then let the players entertain you. Rivers was given an opportunity over the weekend to speak to Sterling. Know how he responded?
“I was asked, do I need to talk to Donald, and I passed,” Rivers said. “Quite honestly, I don’t think now is the time or the place, for me at least, so I took a pass.
“These last 48 hours or more have been really hard for our players and for everyone. I would just like to reiterate how disappointed I am in the comments attributed to our owner, and I can’t tell you how upset I am and our players are. Today I had a meeting with people in our organization because I just felt they needed to hear a voice as well. When you’re around all these people, you realize they are just as upset and embarrassed, and it doesn’t reflect who they really are. That’s the thing I got from all of them. They didn’t sign on for this, but they’re a part of this. They’re upset at this, but they’re going to hang in there, and so are we as a group and as a team. I have to do a better job with our guys and get them back. From our fans’ standpoint, being here for the past 10 hours since we landed, they’ve been amazing. We need them. I can tell you that. We need unbelievable support right now from other people, and we’re hoping we get that (Tuesday night).’’
A Clippers fan, as hardy a sports soul of anyone west of Wrigley Field, has been waiting three decades for a moment like Game 5. Why would you let a creep get in the way of your buzz? “The fans are in a dilemma as well. We want them to cheer for their players and their team because it’s still their team,’’ Rivers said. “From what I got from the fans that I talked to, that’s how they feel: `This is my team and these are my players that I’m cheering for, and that’s not going to change,’ and I hope that continues.”
A storm of media, activism and angst awaits. At night’s end, we’ll all triumph if the game of basketball — and the spirit of humankind — triumphs over one man’s hatred. If you pay for a seat that goes empty, the creep wins. Don’t let him.