By Vincent Bonsignore
With the world watching, the NBA pounced on Donald Sterling Tuesday.
It did so swiftly, decisively and with unprecedented force when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stood at a podium in New York and hammered the Clippers owner with a lifetime ban that permanently disconnects him from any official association with the Clippers or NBA.
Then Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million dollars, the maximum allowed under his jurisdiction. Most importantly, he urged the NBA Board of Governors to unite together in vote to force Sterling to sell the team he’s owned for more than three decades.
“Adam Silver today was fantastic,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “He made a decision that had to be made.”
The message was loud, bold and distinct: The NBA doesn’t stand for hatred and racism.
And it’s time for Sterling to take his backwards thinking and dislike for minorities somewhere else.
Good day, sir.
More than 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles, an angry city rejoiced and a weary basketball team returned to work, both content with a punishment that eradicates an ugly civic stain that’s embarrassed us for too long.
No longer suffocated by the hideous shadow cast by their owner, the Clippers unleashed themselves on the Golden State Warriors in a 113-103 win in Game 5 of their fist round Western Conference playoff series.
In the process, they take a 3-2 lead to the Bay Area, where they hope to close Golden State out in Game 6 Thursday.
And with Sterling no longer in the picture, their focus remains entirely on basketball.
“It felt like weight was lifted off our shoulder,” said center DeAndre Jordan. “We could just go out and play basketball.”
Said Chris Paul: “It put a lot of those guys in that locker room mind’s at ease.”
Thankfully, we can all return to normal.
Sterling’s latest indignity – and the cause of his epic fall – was his hateful, arrogant, voice spewing vile and racism on the now infamous audio-taped conversation with his girlfriend.
We can be a a lot of things in Los Angeles, but we’ve always opened our arms to people of all colors and religions and political affiliations.
We don’t always get it right.
But as one of the great melting pots in the world, we try.
The hate Sterling expressed on that tape shocked and angered us.
But mostly it saddened us.
This isn’t someone we want representing our great city, so when Silver laid down the harshest sentence possible, we were overjoyed.
Meanwhile, the beleaguered, mentally drained Clippers sat in the darkness of their practice facility film room in Playa Vista preparing for Game 5 of their Western Conference playoff series against the Golden State Warriors.
For three days they have carried the burden of Sterling’s misdeeds, the unintended face of the hate and ignorance he expressed.
It was an impossible position for sure, their friends and family members and loyal fans urging them to protest Sterling by boycotting their playoff series against the Warriors.
They were as angry and hurt as anyone, and they burned with fury at their owner’s arrogance and racism.
But they’d worked too hard, come too far to abandon their dreams of a long playoff run. So they decided to keep playing, simultaneously awaiting the NBA’s decision and hoping it was sufficient enough to cull the building anger within.
Pressure was building, though. And a light-handed or delayed punishment threatened to elevate concern to DEFCON 1 status. The Warriors were privately planning action of their own, plotting to walk off the court Tuesday immediately after tip off if Silver’s punishment fell short.
The Clippers were contemplating their own reaction. Perhaps even boycotting the game.
“Clearly that could have happened.”
But then came Silver’s decision.
Rivers turned interrupted the film session and made a historic announcement.
The commissioner had banned their Sterling or life, he told his players.
And soon he may be forced to sell the team.
“I honestly didn’t think it was going to be as big as it was,” Blake Griffin said. “It made sense. It was the right decision.”
There was no celebration.
No one rejoiced or shared a high five.
“Honestly, there was nothing,” Rivers said. “There was complete silence.”
Rivers thanked the Clippers for the dignity and class they’d shown during an unfortunate ordeal they neither asked for or wished to be a part of.
It was earnest, heartfelt and well deserved.
Then the Clippers let out a sigh of relief that could be felt from Manhattan Beach to Granada Hills.
The skies were clear. The storm subsided.
“Like a dark cloud being lifted,” said guard Jamal Crawford.
And with that, it was time to go back to work.
And work they did, slamming the Warriors with a 31-point first-quarter that sent them soaring into the second quarter with a 10-point lead.
The Clippers played dispassionately and unfocused Sunday in a 21-point loss in Game 4. They wouldn’t admit it, but with the Sterling drama barely 24 hours old by the time they took the floor against the Warriors they were clearly affected.
“Emotions drain energy. I know that,” Rivers said. “I felt that the other night.”
But the ruling by Silver seemed to liberate the Clippers, and they played freely and spiritedly and unabashedly while building the big lead.
Jordan went scoreless with just six rebounds in Game 4, but by the end of the first quarter Tuesday he had 10 points and five rebounds.
By the end of the half he was up to 15 points and 11 rebounds.
He finished with 25 points and 18 rebounds.
There was energy and ball movement and second-effort, the Clippers feeding off a frenzied crowd dressed primarily in black – the color of choice to mock Sterling and his prejudice.
The players appreciated the gesture.
“We have a tough locker room, all of us are tough,” Chris Paul said. “But it almost brought tears to your eyes to feel the support from our fans.”
A sense of togetherness hung thick in the air Tuesday, the anger and wrath felt across Los Angeles replaced by a strong bond connecting a team with a city.
We will never know what the scene would have been had Silver not done the right thing. Thankfully, it never came to that. The NBA’s swift, just action had a soothing affect from the corridors of City Hall to the Clippers locker room.
“It was a burden lifted off our shoulders,” Paul said. “We could finally focus on basketball. What we needed to worry about.”
There was no more talk of making symbolic statements or boycotting games.
“The clutter,” Paul explained. “You’ve got your family members and your friends and the media, everybody telling you what you should do. Or what they would do if they were in that situation. But you never know what you’d do until you’re in that situation.”
Said Jordan: “I feel like it took our minds off what was going on. We got a lot from our family and friends. Once that happened I feel like it was a
Instead, it was all about defending Warriors sharpshooter Stephen Curry and getting Paul and Griffin back on track.
Meanwhile, their fans were no loner conflicted, no longer feeling the need to carry out their frustration through protest.
They filled Staples Center with passion and energy, their spirits lifted with the news Sterling has been removed from the equation.
We all know he will fight the verdict, and it’s likely a long struggle ahead forcing him to sell the team.
But he’ll wage his battle far away from Staples Center.
Out of sight. Out of mind.
And out of our way.