The emotional weekend for the NBA continued Sunday in Oakland, as the Los Angeles Clippers suited up for their first game since the release of a recorded phone conversation, allegedly between team owner Donald Sterling and his girlfriend, V. Stiviano. The audio, obtained by TMZ, has caused a maelstrom in the media and opened yet another dialogue surrounding race relations in professional sports. The controversy has compelled NBA players past and present—and even the President of The United States to speak on Sterling’s statements and how the NBA should move forward.
The Clippers staged a silent protest Sunday afternoon before their 118-97 loss to the Golden State Warriors. As NBA fans anticipating how the team would react watched on, the Clippers contingent entered Oracle Arena with their warm-up jerseys inside-out as to hide the organization’s logo during their pre-game shoot-around. They threw their logo-clad outfits to the center of the court, and continued to warm up wearing plain red shirts over their game jerseys. During the game, players also wore black socks and black bands on their left arms. Though not confirmed as a deliberate decision, it was also notable that the team wore their alternate away jerseys, only displaying “Los Angeles” across the chest, as opposed to their standard road game jerseys that prominently display “Clippers” in the same area.
The game itself quickly became an afterthought. Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers could be heard in huddles continuously urging his players to “get their heads into the game” and “try to focus on the task at hand,” as the team was uncharacteristically sloppy and noticeably distracted from the offset.
Sterling agreed not to attend Sunday’s game. His wife, Rochelle Sterling, was in attendance and though she was advised not to agree to an onscreen interview, did provide ABC’s Lisa Salter with a statement:
“I do not condone those statements that you heard. I do not believe in them. I am not a racist. I never have been, I never will be. The team is the most important thing to my family.”
She would not confirm, however, whether or not the voice heard in the recorded conversation was indeed her husband.
Elsewhere in and around the league, sentiments and responses came from a varied collection of the NBA’s most prominent figures. Kobe Bryant simply tweeted “I couldn’t play for him,” while LeBron James—ndoubtedly the game’s most popular and visible star—was more direct. “There is no room for Donald Sterling in our league. There is no room for him,” he stated during a brief interview following the Heat’s Saturday night victory.
Two of basketball’s most iconic figures added even more texture in their reactions.
Michael Jordan was uncharacteristically outspoken, urging the NBA to take swift action:
“I look at this from two perspectives— as a current owner and a former player. As an owner, I’m obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views. I’m confident that [NBA Commissioner] Adam Silver will make a full investigation and take appropriate action quickly. As a former player, I’m completely outraged. There is no room in the NBA – or anywhere else – for the kind of racism and hatred that Mr. Sterling allegedly expressed. I am appalled that this type of ignorance still exists within our country and at the highest levels of our sport. In a league where the majority of players are African-American, we cannot and must not tolerate discrimination at any level.”
Magic Johnson—after being the one name directly referenced in the audio recording as a “minority” whose presence at Clipper games and association with Stiviano “bothered” Sterling – tweeted that neither he nor his wife would ever again be in attendance for a Clippers game so long as Sterling owns the team and later expounded on his position during the ABC pre-game telecast Sunday afternoon:
“Donald [Sterling] was one of the first people I met when I arrived in L.A.… I had a friendship with him… So for him to then make these comments, or alleged comments, about myself as well as other African-Americans and minorities, there’s no place in our society for it. There’s no place in our league, because we all get along. We all play with different races of people when you’re in sports. That’s what makes sports so beautiful. … Once Commissioner Silver does his due diligence, he’s gotta come down hard. He shouldn’t own a team anymore. HE should stand up and say he doesn’t want to own a team anymore.”
Sacramento Mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson, on behalf of the NBA Player’s Association, was also in attendance at Sunday’s game and made a statement on behalf of the countless amounts of players he had spoken with since the incident broke – highlighting that the players wanted to stand together and have one collective voice in what could prove to be a defining, albeit dark, moment in NBA history:
“The players are outraged by what took place. I think what we are all struggling with is [figuring out] how do we not rush to judgment but at the same token we can’t approach this with any hesitancy. They want to know, within the by-laws and the constitution, what are the maximum sanctions that are available to the commissioner to administer. The players also wanted to ensure that Mr. Sterling does not attend any games for the Clippers or any other team for the duration of the playoffs… We’re confident that the commissioner understood that this is an enormous distraction for everyone, and we want the focus to really be on the games and what’s taking place on the court.”
The NBA will discuss further actions Monday. There has been no word on whether Donald Sterling will be in attendance at the Clippers next game Tuesday evening, when they return home to Los Angeles.