They were going to boycott Tuesday night, every one of the six teams. And with all due respect to the steely will of Adam Silver, this was as much about green as it was black and white. If the new NBA commissioner didn’t slam Donald Sterling with a lifetime ban and force him to sell the Los Angeles Clippers, all three postseason Game 5s would have been canceled because no one would have been in uniform.
And that would have cost the league, its broadcast partners and its sponsors a hell of a lot of money, while raising the possibility that an entire postseason would be scrapped.
So in the rush to praise Silver for his historic stance, do not forget that the league’s players, current and former, were very influential in the forming of his conclusion. It started with Magic Johnson on Saturday, after his photo appeared with V. Stiviano in the infamous Instagram and his name was smeared by Sterling in his racist rant. It continued with LeBron James, Michael Jordan. Then came the b-word, not whispered. “I heard from our players and all of our players felt like boycotting the games tonight,” said Roger Mason Jr., the first vice president of the National Basketball Players Association. “We’re talking about all NBA players. We’re talking about the playoff games. … I reached out to other players around the league and made it clear the players were ready to boycott the games if this type of action was not something that Adam Silver felt was necessary.’’
It was necessary. The players still aren’t satisfied, wanting answers on the owners’ timetable to force Sterling’s ouster and what kind of limbo the Clippers would face if the ogre, as expected, sues the league and drags out litigation for years. But for now, boycotts have been replaced by basketball, beautiful basketball, and the most electric first round ever in the NBA. “ We were prepared in the event that this decision didn’t come down to move forward that way,’’ Mason said. “We didn’t think this was just a Clippers issue so we didn’t want to put the pressure on Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and that team, we wanted to band behind our brothers to do the right thing and that would have been to communicate with the other teams in our league and let them know what we were going to do.”
Both the Clippers and Warriors had hatched separate plans to boycott their game at Staples Center. Silver’s firm announcement ended those thoughts. “They were waiting for a decision and that clearly could have happened,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of a potential boycott. “That was one of the reasons I didn’t have practice (Monday) in a clear practice situation. When you get blown out like we got blown out (Sunday), you probably should have a practice. I just didn’t think it would make any sense to do it. I thought they needed to go home and be with their families and breathe a little bit. Knowing that Adam was going to have a press conference, I just felt like we knew there was going to be some kind of resolution. I was almost happy his announcement was during our practice.’’
The Warriors concocted a plot straight out of Hollywood: participate in warmups and introductions, line up for the opening tip and walk away as the ball was tossed by the referee. They were going to alert the Clippers and hope they followed the same exit strategy. “It would have been our only chance to make a statement in front of the biggest audience that we weren’t going to accept anything but the maximum punishment,” said Steph Curry, who hatched the idea with teamamtes David Lee, Jermaine O’Neal and Draymond Green, in an interview with Bay Area News Group. “We would deal with the consequences later, but we were not going to play.’’
As for the Clippers, the most aggrieved party in this scandal, they were relieved of a terrible burden. With the team’s website bearing only one element — the slogan, “We Are One,’’ that was used by Silver and many others on a landmark day in America — Rivers and the players were able to rededicate themselves to the playoffs and win Game 5. Rivers and team president Andy Roeser, who has worked for Sterling for years and had attached his name Saturday to a flimsy attempt to defend Sterling’s remarks, released a statement together condemning the now-jettisoned owner’s rant. “We wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision by the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver,’’ read the statement.
Said Rivers: “I thought Adam Silver today was fantastic. He made a decision that really was the right one that had to be made. I don’t think this is something we rejoice in or anything like that. I told the players about the decision and I think they were just happy there was a resolution and it’s over or at least the start of it. I was just really proud of them and I’ve been proud of the players in the NBA overall, I’ve been proud of the ownership throughout the league and I think we’re all in a better place because of this.”
The players didn’t watch the live telecast of Silver’s press conference. They were busy at the pre-game shooaround. “I kind of said it and told them what Adam had said and honestly there was nothing in the room at that time when I said it,” Rivers said. “There was complete silence. I said what I thought I needed to tell them and then we went right back to film.”
What’s next for the Clippers off the court is murky. But now, they can do their jobs without the ogre atop their hierarchy. Rivers, for one, says not to assume he will resign as coach after the season, as he’s suggested earlier. “A lifetime ban is a lifetime ban. And, yes, I do think that’s the right decision,’’ said Rivers, who has guided his team through the crisis with amazing dignity and equilibrium. “The next question is, where do we go? You think about coaching a team, and actually, I don’t know who to call if I need something, so the quicker that is done, the better for everyone. Having said that, it’s going to take time, and we all have to be patient. We can move forward.
“You always have to move forward. You learn over and over that when something like this happens with the burden or racism, it always falls on the person that has been offended to respond and I’ve always thought that that’s interesting. I felt the pressure on my players. Everyone was waiting for them to give a response. I kept thinking that they didn’t do anything yet they have to respond, so Adam responded and I thought that was the sigh of relief that we needed. Is it over? No, it’s not over, but it’s the start of the healing process that we need and the start of our organization to try to get through this. I know we have a game, but I do think this has been more important and I think our players have done the best they can possibly do in this situation.”
Outside Staples Center, the mood was celebratory, much different than the anticipated tension if Silver hadn’t ruled so decisively. The activists had their say, shouting, “Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! Donald Sterling has got to go!’’ But the fan focus was back on basketball, and every seat in the arena was filled. The fans gave the Clippers a standing ovation when they took the court, and Griffin and others acknowledged them. “A safe haven tonight,’’ Rivers said.
Safe from evil.
“Distractions are not going to get in our way,’’ said center DeAndre Jordan, who had 25 points and 18 rebounds in an inspired performance. “It’s definitely taken our whole family here to get us through it, but our job is to play basketball and to try to win a championship.’’
Maybe they will. What a triumph that would be, one act of bold history following another.
“WE ARE ONE! WE ARE ONE!’’ the fans chanted in the fourth quarter, as the Clippers pulled away to overcome the enemy. I don’t mean the Warriors.