Everybody is elated because NBA Commissioner Adam Silver did the right thing. Praising him for his bravery.
Well, accolades come cheap these days. People get confused and have the wool pulled over their eyes as quickly as ever. Silver did what he had to do. If he hadn’t banned Donald Sterling for life and promised to gain enough owner support to rip the bamboozled racists' franchise from him, the NBA might have had a full scale riot on its hands. As I wrote in a previous piece this week, "Adam Silver Has to Take Charge, Put Up Or Become A Lame Duck, Silver was forced to step up and strike quickly.
“Adam responded,” said LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers, “and I thought that was the sigh of relief we needed. Is this over, no, but it's the start of a healing process that we need."
That seems to be enough for the time being. Although NBA players union reps were adamant about Sterling being removed with all expedience. The equivalent of Silver’s actions—from a pure pro sports standpoint—can be compared to the opposite effects of Hurricane Katrina. The powers that be in The Bayou weren’t able to stop the levies from breaking and devouring a city. In this instance, Silver threw his body down and plugged the potential racial flood that was accumulating over the past week. Instead of the NBA’s levy bursting, it became as TNT analyst Ernie Johnson called it, “One of the most significant days in league history.”
We don’t know for sure if the players would have boycotted if Silver’s ruling went any other way. But we do know that when cats like Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson start snooping around, that means it has transcended sports and begins to morph into a political and social civil rights situation. These guys only come out for the big fish race issues. Let’s be honest, for all the negative talk about Sharpton and Jesse, when situations like this arise they are always front and center. Their mere presence scares people of the opposite race like, “Here comes the Calvary.”
Whether or not they crave the spotlight as much as racial justice is a mere formality. Everybody had an angle on this one from Sterling, to his high-paid side chick V. Stiviano, to the players, black leaders, media heads, owners, politicians and civil rights activists.
Initially slow to respond, fellow NBA owners obviously understanding the depth of the situation and the potential widespread financial pitfalls of retaining Sterling, eventually began to denounce his actions and support Silver’s decision. It was only right that an owner other than Michael Jordan expressed disgust with Sterling’s audio.
This situation will also undoubtedly raise Kevin Johnson’s political cache. The players turned to the former All-Star point guard turned Sacramento Mayor, and he immediately took the baton and ran with it. He used his political platform and celebrity status to influence people and put extreme pressure on the NBA and Silver to make a move. This was also a shining moment in his burgeoning career. Johnson spoke eloquently, representing fellow African-Americans with strength and conviction without wavering in demanding further justice.
“I believe that today stands as one of those great moments (in American history),” said Johnson, who’s also chairman of the NBPA Search Committee. Flanked by Lakers guard Steve Nash and other players union reps, he continued, “[it’s] where sports once again transcends. Where sports provides a place for fundamental change on how our country should think and act.”
In the same way that the venomous sting of Sterling’s comments seemed to flush the life out of Doc Rivers’ squad in a decisive Game 4 loss at the Oracle, the announcement of Sterling’s lifetime ban seemed to infuse the pride and swag back into the Clippers’ team.
DeAndre Jordan, who was invisible in Game 4, had 25 points, a playoff career high, and 18 rebounds while Chris Paul scored 20 points for the Clippers, who snatched a 113-103 victory at home to take a 3-2 series lead. The Clippers are on the brink of just their third playoff series victory since Sterling bought the team in 1981 with Game 6 being Thursday night in Oakland.
The emotion was high and a mix of celebrities, political pythons and ticked off fans made the Staples Center the focus of the sports universe on Tuesday. Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers high-fived each of his players near the bench as the final seconds ticked away in a heightened display of excitement. In the postgame press conference, Rivers tempered the celebration. “I don’t think this is something we rejoice in,” Rivers said. “I told the players about the decision and I think they were just happy that there was a resolution and it’s over…at least, the start of it to be.”
Doc understands. It was almost as if they won the c’hip. Veteran Jamal Crawford who helped brainstorm the Game 4 silent protest, hugged and slapped hands with fans at courtside on the way to the locker room.
"It's one of the most emotional things I’ve ever been a part of,” said CP3, whose trade to the Lakers was nixed in 2011 before being hand-delivered to the Clippers by former NBA Commissioner David Stern. “It almost brought tears to your eyes to feel the support of our fans. It was amazing coming out for warm-ups and seeing the fans lined up. In Golden State, I wasn’t sure what we would come back too."
“You have distractions all the time and the magnitude of this was a little crazy,” said All-Star forward Blake Griffin. “Even when something like this happens, you expend emotional energy just trying not to think about it. Whether you try or not it’s going to be a little bit of a distraction, but I’m honestly proud of how the guys responded.”
So who’s the true champion in this? It wasn’t a hard issue for the players to take a stance on. Sterling's audio and subsequent mortified response from people of all ethnicities made it an impossible issue to ignore. There’s no telling how many players didn’t want to consider a protest. I’m sure there were guys who could care less about what Sterling said as long as he was paying their hefty checks. In this instance, it was obvious they had no choice and would have to acquiesce to whatever decision the majority made.
But for those young bucks who feel money makes people respect you as a person and have never truly felt the direct sting of a racist, this was surely an eye-opening situation and definitely served as a history lesson. And the fact that Sterling still gets his paper (for now) only further proves that for once – in this instance – money wasn’t everything. Silver’s verdict and the steps leading up to it, prove that in some situations in this capitalistic country, common decency still prevails over cash flow.
With all due respect to how he is being immortalized already, Silver's hand was forced by the consensus opinion on this one. He said all of the right things; apologizing to black basketball pioneers Bill Russell, Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, “Sweetwater” Clifton and “especially” Magic Johnson. He did what was required in most people’s eyes. And as soon as he had secured support from the other owners, he did what he had to do.
But let’s not get it twisted. Silver's major objective wasn't to end racial discrimination in the NBA. If so, Sterling would have been ousted years ago. He needed to strike with enough force and punish Sterling publicly in a severe manner, as to avoid a disaster of epic proportions. If the players didn't take the court, Silver would have a full-fledged mutiny on his hands, and a situation spiraling out of control.
His first objective was to settle down these black folks who are ready to March on Washington over Sterling’s comments. The media definitely helped instigate the issue, which ironically was all started by a cheap, gossip publication created to stir sh@@#t up and expose people.
The ironies in this situation are endless. From Sterling dating a black woman, but imploring her not to bring black people to his games. To TMZ actually doing something socially progressive (even if galvanizing NBA players and almost inciting a player/fan protest wasn’t the goal). Clippers fans of all colors were ready to turn on ownership in a unified stance against discrimination.
Players rocking black wristbands in solidarity and wearing warm-ups inside out to conceal the Clippers name was about as impactful a message that can be sent in 2014. The country is much more racially diverse and financially-complicated than decades ago. A player walk-out would have had severe backlashes on common folk who depend on menial NBA jobs to survive. From the vendors to the parking lot attendees to the cashiers. The NBA made sure that wasn’t necessary and if Silver keeps up his end of the deal and forces Sterling to sell the franchise, this major episode will be soon forgotten by NBA Nation.
While situations such as this reinforces the truth that racist and bigoted minds still exist at the highest levels in this country, it also shows that a 75-80 percent black NBA, where nearly 90 percent of the coaches are white and 70-plus percent of the game attendees are Caucasian as well, all can stand together for a common cause. America has not abandoned its moral core as some suggest. People get lost in reality TV and celebrity obsessions and desensitized by race tragedies like Trayvon Martin’s. But the importance of sports as an agent for social change hasn’t suffered. I can't speak for the most militant of black folks, but guys like Jackie Robinson would have been proud of what the NBA stood for this week.