OAKLAND: Los Angeles Clippers players staged a silent protest and wore black apparel during an NBA playoff loss 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 118-97 loss at Golden State, but comments allegedly made by the 80-year-old billionaire cast a long shadow over the contest.
Players gathered at center court before a pre-game warm-up, removed their team warm-up shirts and left them on the floor, working out wearing shirts that were inside out so the team name and logo were not visible.
Ignoring calls by some to boycott the game, players instead wore black socks, shirts, wristbands or armbands during the contest. But they made no comment about the remarks, which were described by US President Barack Obama as “ignorant” and “incredibly offensive.”
“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 of the protest.
Golden State’s victory margin matched the Clippers’ third-worst playoff loss in history, leveling 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.
The first African-American to be elected US president and also a well-known basketball fan, Obama said: “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.”
Also Sunday, the Deadspin website posted a longer version of what it said was the same conversation, but with new remarks including telling the woman, “Don’t come to my games. Don’t bring black people and don’t come.”
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.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver called the comments “truly offensive and disturbing,” and says the NBA plans to speak with Sterling and the woman on the tape with hopes of wrapping up their probe before Tuesday’s game.
Kevin Johnson, a retired NBA star working with the players union, met 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 Angles Lakers star Magic Johnson said Sterling “shouldn’t own a team anymore,” adding, “This is bad for everybody. It’s bad for America and I’m really upset about it.”
Former NBA great and 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.”
Rivers said the growing storm over the controversy might have contributed to the heavy 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.”
Golden State’s Andre Iguodala said the issue went well beyond one club.
“It’s not just the Clippers,” he said. “It’s a sad situation that someone feels a certain way about the majority of players in the league.”