A weekend of embarrassment for the Los Angeles Clippers and their fans led to a day of healing as the National Basketball Association imposed a lifetime ban on team owner Donald Sterling for his racist remarks.
“I don’t think this is something we rejoice in,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said last night before his team beat the Golden State Warriors 113-103 in Game 5 of their playoff series. “But it’s the start of a healing process we need, and it’s a start for our organization to try to get through this.”
Chris Paul, the Clippers’ All-Star point guard and president of the NBA players union, said the announcement of Sterling’s punishment “seemed like a burden lifted off of everybody and we could just get back to basketball.”
“When we ran out there for warmups, it was one of the most emotional things I’ve ever been a part of, it almost brought tears to my eyes,” Paul said. “It’s definitely been tough the last few days.”
Staples Center scoreboards that normally display ads for Adidas flashed “We Are One” throughout the game. Adidas AG announced yesterday, after Sterling’s punishment was announced, that it would reinstate its sponsorship deal with the Clippers.
Adidas, the NBA’s official uniform supplier and the world’s second-largest sporting goods maker behind Nike Inc., had said a day earlier that it had suspended its deal with the team because of Sterling’s comments.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver not only banned Sterling, he fined the owner $2.5 million and said he would urge owners to force Sterling to sell the team. Three-quarters of the NBA’s 30 owners would have to vote him out; Silver said he was confident that it would happen.
Sterling was banned after website TMZ posted a recording of him telling a woman to not bring black people to Clippers games. It came after the woman, with whom he sat at his team’s games, posted a photo of herself and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson to Instagram.
Outside the Staples Center, Tony Zeddies summed up the sentiments of many fans. He wore a black T-shirt with white lettering saying “Love the Players” on the front and “Hate the Owner” on the back.
Minutes after Silver announced the sanctions yesterday afternoon against Sterling, the team issued a statement saying, “We wholeheartedly support and embrace the decision by the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver today. Now the healing process begins.”
Sterling’s remarks brought rebukes ranging from U.S. President Barack Obama to Charlotte Hornets Chairman and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan. At least 12 Clippers sponsors either withdrew or suspended their support.
Clippers fans are finally getting a taste of success, including three straight years in the postseason, after suffering through decades of losing; the franchise has had five winning seasons since Sterling bought it in 1981.
“The team, the fans are bigger than any stupid comments an owner can make,” said Zeddies, 42, who said he has been going to Clippers games for three decades.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said the comments from Sterling, who amassed a fortune of $1.9 billion according to Forbes magazine investing in apartment units in Los Angeles and elsewhere, cast a bad light on his entire city.
“This is not just about basketball, this is about Los Angeles; this city stands for civil rights,” Garcetti said at a City Hall news conference attended by former and current NBA players. “I want to thank Commissioner Silver for bringing down the hammer, for being as strong as he could be.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 67, a Hall of Fame player who led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles in the 1980s and remains the league’s career scoring leader, said he had several sleepless nights after Sterling’s remarks were broadcast.
“This really bothered me, but I’m just really thrilled with what Commissioner Silver did,” he said at the City Hall news conference that also included Tyson Chandler of the New York Knicks. “His actions and focus were so on the mark it was unbelievable.”
Also attending that news conference was Steve Nash, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player who now plays for the Lakers -- who share the Staples Center with the Clippers.
“After initial outrage, disappointment and sadness, I think today is a very proud day for not only current and former players, but for the NBA,” Nash said. “It begs a bigger question -- if racism is a learned behavior, how long will it go on for, how long will people be taught to be bigoted and instill hatred in our communities? Let’s hope this is a chance to educate and take one more step toward eradicating racism.”
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a three-time NBA All-Star who was speaking on behalf of the National Basketball Players Association, said the last few days have provided “a very stark reminder that we still have a lot of work to do. These events remind all of us that hatred and bigotry are far from over.”
“This is bigger than basketball, this is a defining moment in our history,” Johnson said at the City Hall news conference. “Throughout our history, sports has played a pivotal role in advancing civil rights. I believe that today stands as one of those great moments, where sports once again transcends, where sports provides a place for fundamental change on how our country should think and act.”