Here is my Thursday column about the furor surrounding Game 5. The full text runs below:
LOS ANGELES — Police surrounded the Staples Center hours before Tuesday’s playoff game between the Warriors and the Clippers. Police in shorts — it was hot outside — police on horses, police with guns and sticks. Serious police.
“They don’t know what to expect,” said someone from the Clippers, whose owner Donald Sterling has been under fire since Friday night for racist remarks he made to his girlfriend. Tuesday was the 22nd anniversary of the Rodney King riots. You could see L.A. going up in flames all over again.
But there were no protests over racist remarks by Clippers owner Donald Sterling. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, God love him, took care of that. He resolved an ugly situation in mere days. Acted fast and decisively. Acted correctly and bravely. So, L.A. did not flame. You looked outside and what you saw was people coming to a game, fans in red shirts, Clippers fans. Happy. Resolved.
Silver kicked Sterling out of the NBA, gave him a lifetime ban, started the process of taking the Clippers away from him. Silver, in his first major act as commissioner — he’s been on the job just three months — rid the league, rid you and me of the plague that is Sterling.
What is the plague? The plague is a racist making racist remarks. A racist putting down black people without a shred of shame.
Silver said no owner can do that in the NBA, a league where people from France and China and Argentina, you name the country, play alongside men from Chicago’s inner city. A rainbow league.
It was like a fairytale. The evil guy got banished and everyone got back to life, and the kingdom was whole.
On Tuesday afternoon, Warriors coach Mark Jackson and Clippers coach Doc Rivers — antagonists on the court — spoke privately, spoke about how their teams might have boycotted the game if Silver did not come through. Later, Jackson said he was honored to walk side-by-side with Rivers in this fight. Jackson said the fight is bigger than basketball.
Sports got it right. Sports always gets it right, even if sports sometimes moves slowly. Sports got it right with Jackie Robinson and sports got it right when Bill Russell became the first African-American coach in the NBA — he took over the Celtics in 1966. Sports was ahead of the curve, is the most tolerant organism. It should make you proud about being a fan. And it should make you angry when people say mere games are trivial. Ask Sterling.
The players did not speak to the media before the game. It would have blown their minds to analyze Silver’s words to the media when they were amping up for competition. The coaches spoke.
Rivers went first, walked into a media interview room with every seat filled and people lining the walls. The overflow watched on TVs in the press eating room. This would be a pivotal game in the Warriors-Clippers series. It was a pivotal moment in American history.
Rivers sighed as he slid into his chair. It was a loud sigh. It was a life sigh. His team was practicing when Silver announced his decision. He shared the decision later with the team. His players listened. “Honestly there was nothing in the room,” Rivers explained later. “There was complete silence. Just to let them know this was some closure. There’s still work to do.”
Rivers began his news conference without waiting for questions. He boldly leaped into the controversy. Sterling is the villain of this sad drama, and Rivers is the hero. The MVP.
“Hello, everybody,” he said, his voice weary. “I come with no notes, with no prep statement. This last three or four days have been very difficult for everybody involved. No matter what the race is, it’s been difficult. I thought Adam Silver today was fantastic. He made a decision that really was the right one, that had to be made.
“I don’t think this is something we rejoice in. I think (the players) were just happy there was a resolution, at least the start of it. I’m really proud of them. I’ve been proud of the players in the NBA, overall. I’ve been proud of the owners. We’re all in a better place because of this.”
Why did he sigh when he sat down?
“You learn over and over with the burden of racism, it always falls on the person who has been offended to respond. I’ve always thought that’s interesting. I felt the pressure on my players. Everyone was waiting for them to give a response. I kept thinking they didn’t do anything yet they have to respond. So Adam responded. That was the sigh of relief that was needed.
“Is this over? No it’s not over. But it’s the start of a healing process we need. I know we have a game and I have given it some thought, obviously, but I do think this is more important and I think our players have done the best they possibly can do in this situation.”
Please pause a moment to consider Doc Rivers. What a leader. What a person.
Someone asked what he wants to say to Donald Sterling. You expected Rivers to express bitterness. No. He said he’d try to change Sterling. He was generous. “I’d like to change anyone’s mind who feels that way.”
Did his team consider not playing Tuesday night?
“They were waiting for a decision and that clearly could have happened (not playing). That’s one of the reasons I didn’t have practice (Monday) in a clear practice situation. When you get blown out, you probably should have a practice. I thought they needed to go home and be with their families and breathe a little bit. Knowing that Adam was going to have a press conference today, we needed some kind of resolution. I was happy his announcement was during our practice.
“They did talk about not playing. My father, who’s no longer here, he would have told me to go do my job and don’t let anybody stop you from doing your job because of what they think about you. You can make a bigger statement by doing your job well in front of adversity. I know my father would have said that. The burden shouldn’t have to be on them to have a right or wrong response. They didn’t do anything wrong. They shouldn’t have the burden of making a response.”
Later, Jackson spoke to the media, said this about Rivers, “He’s done a masterful job of handling this situation.”
Jackson made important things clear. The Sterling Affair is bigger than basketball. It is about racism in our lives and in our history. Jackson said he and Rivers feel solidarity with each other about this issue, that his players and the Clippers players feel solidarity with each other.
Minutes after Silver announced the expulsion of Sterling, the Clippers changed their Web page, Clippers.com. When you clicked on it, you saw a black background with only three words: We Are One.
All of us.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.