The Los Angeles Clippers, should be loving life right about now. After years of being “The Other Team” that plays at the Staples Center, they are competing in the NBA Playoffs while the Lakers went home after a disappointing regular season. Their squad has evolved from a roster of has-beens, never-weres and wannabes, into a team that is chock-full of talent.
Last summer the team hired one of the première head-coaches in the Association, as they lured former Boston Celtics bench-boss Doc Rivers to the left coast. Rivers led the Celtics to the NBA Championship in 2008 and the team hoped that he could not only lead the club to their first appearance in the Finals, but to finally claim their first Larry O’Brien Trophy.
With the Clippers leading their first round series by a 2-1 margin against the Golden State Warriors, the action on the hardwood took a backseat last Friday as celebrity gossip website “TMZ.com” reported they possessed an audio-tape of a conversation between team owner Donald Sterling and former girlfriend V. Stiviano. The website reports that Sterling chided the woman over an Instagram photo of her and former Lakers star Magic Johnson. He also reportedly beseeched her not to appear publicly with Black men, or bring them to Clippers games.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the alleged racist comments attributed to Sterling, is the fact that so many people seem to be surprised that they emanated from this man. Anybody who has followed the Association long enough, are well aware of the reputation that Sterling has acquired over the years, as a man who is not particularly fond of people of color. There have been accusations of racist behavior in his dealings with the team as well as other business transactions.
This is a man who paid out $2.73 million in November of 2010, to get off the hook with the government for refusing to rent apartments to minorities and families with children. This is the man who was fortunate enough to get a non-guilty verdict when former team executive Elgin Baylor sued him for racial discrimination a few years ago. Baylor is one of the classiest men ever to play in the Association and he played in an era when racial animosity directed towards Black players was common place. For a man such as Baylor to file that lawsuit, speaks volumes about the way Sterling treated him despite losing the suit.
The controversy surfaced at the worst possible time for the team with game four of their series against the Warriors being held Sunday in the Bay Area. “ESPN.com” reported that the players and coach held a 45-minute meeting to deal with the issue, which included conversation by the players about possibly boycotting the game. Realizing that a boycott would only be harming themselves, the players showed their displeasure by wearing, black socks, while some players sported back armbands and black ribbons on their jerseys.
It would be nice to report that the squad from the “City Of Angels” rose to the occasion and took a 3-1 lead in their series. Instead Golden State came out of the gates on fire in the first quarter, taking a 39-24 lead at the end of the period which they never relinquished. The series heads back to the Staples Center in Tuesday, knotted up at 2-2.
Although the team’s focus is on the short-term fallout, the long-term ramifications could alter the Clippers radically in the next few months. Can Sterling effectively run an NBA franchise, after these allegations have come forth? Doc Rivers could become a casualty if Sterling retains control, as it would be incredibly tough for the owner to convince his coach that the two men can work effectively together.
This is going to be a baptism by fire for rookie NBA Communication Adam Silver, as he determines what direction the Association can take in this situation. There are various options that are out there, including the family retaining ownership of the franchise while Sterling steps away completely from the franchise. There has already been reported interest from prospective buyers of the club, which might be the best direction for the team; making a clean break from the past.
Although the Clippers franchise has evolved over the last few years, if the allegations are true it is definitive proof that the team owner has not. There is no place for that attitude in our society. It certainly can’t be accepted by the Association.