Los Angeles Clippers players staged a silent protest and wore black apparel during a losing NBA playoff game Sunday after racist remarks attributed to team owner Donald Sterling.
Sterling, the NBA’s longest-serving team owner after buying the Clippers in 1981, did not attend the heavy 118-97 defeat at the Golden State Warriors, but comments allegedly made by the 80-year-old billionaire cast a long shadow over the contest.
Players gathered at center court in Oakland before a pre-game warmup, removed their team warm-up shirts and left them on the floor, working out wearing shirts that were inside out and did not display the Clippers name or logo.
The Clippers ignored calls by some to boycott the game but players wore black socks, shirts, wristbands or armbands. “I wasn’t thrilled about it but if that’s what they want to do, that’s what they want to do,” Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers said.
The big Golden State victory matched the Clippers’ third-worst playoff loss in team history, to level the best-of-seven series at 2-2 with game five Tuesday at Los Angeles, where there is worry about crowd reaction.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous,” Clippers star Chris Paul said of the looming encounter in Los Angeles, with Rivers adding “usually that would mean we’re going to our safe haven. I don’t even know if that’s true to be honest.”
Sterling was the talk of the basketball world and beyond after celebrity-watching website TMZ posted an audio recording Saturday where a man is heard criticizing his girlfriend, identified only as V. Stiviano, for posting photographs on the social media site Instagram of herself and black friends attending Clippers games.
“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you are associating with black people. Do you have to?” the man, purportedly Sterling, says.
“You can sleep with (black people). You can bring them in. You can do whatever you want. The little I ask is not to promote it on that… and not to bring them to my games.
“In your lousy… Instagrams you don’t have to have yourself walking with black people.” That triggered an angry reaction from across the board, including US President Barack Obama.
The first African-American to be elected US president and also a well-known basketball fan, Obama condemned the comments as “ignorant” and “incredibly offensive.”
“We just have to be clear and steady in denouncing it, teaching our children differently but also (remain) hopeful that part of why some statements like this stand out so much is because there has been a shift in how we view ourselves,” Obama said.
Rivers said the growing storm over the controversy might have contributed to the defeat. “It could have. I’m not going to deny we had other stuff,” Rivers said. “If we were injured physically or mentally, the other team shouldn’t care. It’s a competition and we didn’t compete.
“I’ve got to do a better job of getting ready to play basketball and if it’s because of the other things, it’s still my fault.”
Earlier, a Clippers spokesman said the remarks do not reflect Sterling’s views but an attorney for Stiviano, Mac Nehoray, told the Los Angeles Times that it was Sterling’s voice.
Nehoray is representing Stiviano in a lawsuit brought by Sterling’s wife Rochelle, who attended the game and sat courtside.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who was also there, is investigating the furor, describing the recorded comments as “truly offensive and disturbing,” and says the NBA plans to speak with Sterling and the woman on the tape with hopes of wrapping up the probe before Tuesday’s game.
Kevin Johnson, a retired NBA star working with the players union, met Sunday with Silver to stress that players want fast action, a voice in the process and the harshest sanctions possible if Sterling made the comments.
“This is a defining moment in the history of the NBA,” Johnson said. “The players are outraged.”
Retired Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson, who vowed never to attend Clippers games again, told ABC that severe punishment was needed against real estate tycoon Sterling.
“He shouldn’t own a team anymore,” Johnson said.
“And he should stand up and say, ‘I don’t want to own a team anymore,’ especially when you have African-Americans renting his apartments, coming to his games, playing for him and coaching for him.
“This is bad for everybody. It’s bad for America and I’m really upset about it.”
Another former NBA great, Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, said: “As an owner, I’m obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views.
“As a former player, I’m completely outraged.”