By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
DALLAS — In the final seconds of Saturday’s thrilling Game 3 between the Mavericks and Spurs, a San Antonio player of Argentine descent rolled off a screen set by a player born in the Virgin Islands, drove the lane and somehow banked in a leaner over a 6-foot-11 Dallas defender who hails from Haiti.
Moments later, Dallas’ Spanish point guard inbounded the ball to an African-American teammate from Florida, who miraculously swished a 3-point game-winner from the corner. The first player to embrace him in mutual jubilation was a 7-foot German as the home team’s Jewish owner went berserk.
Perhaps no place on Earth is as racially, culturally and ethnically diverse and accepting as on the NBA hardwood and inside NBA locker rooms. Somewhere in Brooklyn, Nets center Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete in an American pro sports league, who most of us have already forgotten is the first openly gay athlete in an American pro sports league, probably marveled at Vince Carter‘s game-winner just like everybody else from sea to shining sea.
Saturday was another brilliant day in this first week of intense playoff basketball. As for humanity, it was an embarrassing day. Audio of a racial diatribe, purportedly the voice of 80-year-old Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling surfaced, and the ignorance and intolerance heard incited swift reactions of anger and outrage from the Clippers’ Doc Rivers and Chris Paul, as well as from members of every race in and out of the league.
LeBron James is right, there is no place in the NBA for out-of-touch, backward-thinking individuals. On Sunday, Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki similarly weighed in.
“Disappointing, very disappointing,” Nowitzki said. “I’m not sure if a guy like that [should be] allowed to own a team in 2014.”
The NBA quickly organized to investigate as new commissioner Adam Silver faces his first full-blown crisis. In a news conference in Memphis on Saturday night where he was attending Game 4 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series, Silver vowed an “extraordinarily” swift and thorough investigation. He was in Oakland on Sunday as the Clippers returned to the court against the Warriors.
The real shame is that Sterling, the longest-tenured owner in the league and whose racial intolerance has been chronicled for decades but never dealt with by the league, chose an insular life within the greater melting pot of Los Angeles and the NBA. He refused to shed obviously deep-rooted ignorance through the unique opportunity the league affords every player, executive, coach and staff member — to interact with and learn from and about people of all races and creeds.
The NBA opened the 2013-14 season with a record-breaking 92 international players from 39 countries and territories. It includes two players from Israel and players from Turkey, where the populace is mostly Muslim. Players hail from Latin America, Asia, every corner of Europe and down under from Australia and New Zealand. And, yes, Africa.
The league has gone to great lengths to expand its global reach. Its Basketball Without Borders program sends players and coaches overseas in every direction each summer to teach the game. As part of its expanding Global Games program, the NBA last fall sent teams to Turkey, China and the Philippines, among other destinations. The world’s first NBA Cafe opened Friday in Manila.
Mavs’ second-year reserve center Bernard James, an African-American, served six years in the Air Force. He fulfilled three tours that included extended stays in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The military is as diverse an organization as the NBA is and there’s no room for that type of mindset, that old way of thinking,” Bernard James said. “I feel like the world, and America especially, has progressed a lot as far as race relations. There’s no room for people who think like that and operate like that. It’s holding everybody back.”
He went on to describe his experience with the Mavs as something of a multicultural classroom.
“I’m pretty close to Sammy [Dalembert], he’s a Haitian guy, so I’ve been learning and understanding about his culture. Here, we have Jose [Calderon] (Spain), we have Gal [Mekel] (Israel), Dirk (Germany), Sammy, all these guys are from different places. Just being around them this much and getting to know them is definitely kind of eye-opening and gives you a closer look at their culture and how their lives have been.”
The idea was floated that the Clippers should boycott the postseason as long as Sterling remains on as owner. That is not a solution. It would make the playoffs more about Sterling than the players.
Allow Silver to handle the law and order, to push Sterling, if guilty, deep out of sight and out of mind.
Doc, CP3 and the rest of the Clippers need focus only on playing ball.