Tim O’Sullivan: Cheering for Clippers would be a slap for Sterling
Jerry Carr carries a sign in protest of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, outside Staples Center on Tuesday, April 29, 2014, in Los Angeles, before Game 5 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series between the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Tuesday that Sterling has been banned for life by the league for making racist comments that hurt the league. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Yesterday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver did what most of us would like to do – slap Donald Sterling with all of the force at his disposal.
In response to the racist remarks allegedly made by Sterling, Silver fined the Los Angeles Clippers owner $2.5 million, the most allowed under NBA rules, and imposed a lifetime ban on Sterling, prohibiting the 80-year-old owner from attending any Clippers games or practices or participating in any business related to the team. Silver said he would also urge other league owners to force Sterling to sell his team, and such a sale can be forced if three-quarters of the owners agree to it.
Those heavy-handed sanctions feel right. Sterling’s purported comments were abhorrent, and they add to his lengthy history of discriminatory behaviors. But where does that leave us as basketball fans on the other side of the country? Do we root for the
Clippers players and coaches, who are in the middle of a tight playoff series, in a show of solidarity? Or do we “boycott” the team, and maybe even the league, to demonstrate our personal disgust? What would such a boycott even look like?
First, we should keep talking about the situation. Even though the 24-hour media cycle is already doing its best to beat this story into the ground (us included), a continuing dialogue about racism in all of its forms will help eradicate the problem. My 13-year-old son heard about the story, and it led to a conversation about the corrosive effects racism has had, and is still having, on our society. He was shocked an NBA owner would have such beliefs, and while it’s difficult to see my child’s innocence slip away, he is old enough to start grappling with some hard truths.
Even though his team appeared distracted during their 118-97 loss to Golden State on Sunday, Clippers Coach Doc Rivers also believes the discussions should continue.
“My belief is that the longer we keep winning, the more we talk about this. I believe that is good,” Rivers said in a press release. “If we want to make a statement – I believe that is how we have to do it. I think that is the right way to do it, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t wrestle with it every day and every moment. That is the difficult part.”
Rooting for the Clippers feels right to me. Rivers coached the Celtics for nine years before Los Angeles acquired him last June for a first-round draft pick, a rare transaction for a coach. It was a strange exit by Rivers, who was accused by some of quitting on the Celtics, but he was a likeable, diligent coach who won 416 games with Boston and one championship. But that’s not why it feels right to root for the Clippers.
The Los Angeles players have made it clear they are offended by their owner. Their protest Sunday – piling their warmup jackets at center court before the game to reveal shirts turned inside out to hide the team logo – may not have been strong enough for some, but it illustrated their feelings. They are playing under a cloud. They are playing despite conflicted emotions. It’s easy to root for men trying to overcome difficulties imposed on them by someone else.
Besides, it would feel like another slap to Sterling if his team won and he wasn’t allowed in the building to enjoy it. Sure, Sterling would receive more revenue if the Clippers move forward in the playoffs, but he doesn’t own the team to make money. Like all owners, he made his money somewhere else, in Sterling’s case it was being a divorce lawyer and a slumlord, and then he bought a professional team as a very expensive toy. It would surely hurt him to not have front-row seats for his toy’s big moment.
And there have been very few big moments in Clippers history. The team has long been a league laughingstock because it’s been mismanaged from the top down, starting with Sterling. It would seem fitting if success followed Sterling’s departure.
Cheering for the Clippers doesn’t feel like a slam dunk, however. Feeling so much disgust toward Sterling that you simply can’t pull for his team is understandable. It would even feel reasonable to feel such disgust toward the whole league. After all, the 29 other owners have been in business with Sterling for decades even though his offensive actions and words have been public knowledge for years.
Expressing those feelings with impact, especially here in New Hampshire, may be tricky. Joining boycotts like the one outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles before last night’s game or tearing up your Clippers tickets is probably not an option for most of us.
There are obvious gestures of protest – like not buying any Clippers paraphernalia – and small ones – like not watching on television. But if you truly want to express your displeasure and distaste, call or email the Celtics. Exhort the Boston owners to force Sterling to sell. And encourage them to change the Celtics’ website.
After Silver announced his sanctions yesterday, the Clippers website got a makeover – the front page was all black with white lettering proclaiming, “WE ARE ONE.” Soon after, the Miami Heat and the Sacramento Kings had the same image headlining their sites, and the Portland Trail Blazers made it their Twitter avatar.
It would have to feel right for Celtics fans, whether they want to root for the Clippers or not, for their team to make the same inclusive statement.
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)