By Sekou Smith, NBA.com
CHARLOTTE — LeBron James and his Miami Heat teammates are in full support of their friends, colleagues and competitors in Los Angeles as the NBA players, fans and owners league-wide — along with the entire sports world — await word from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on the fate of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
As much as James and the Heat were focused on their chance to close out the Charlotte Bobcats in Game 4 of their first round playoff series Monday night at Time Warner Cable Arena, they were just as tuned into the ongoing drama surrounding Sterling, whose alleged racist comments to his girlfriend that were caught on tape by TMZ have created a global firestorm.
They staged their own silent protest before the start of Monday’s game. Silver is scheduled to address the media Tuesday afternoon in regards to the league’s investigation into the Sterling matter.
James didn’t mice his words on the topic in the locker room before tip-off. He’s as anxious as anyone to see how the league will respond.
“We’re all in suspense and in waiting,” he said. “It’s a waiting game right now. We believe in the NBA. We believe in Adam Silver. Justice should be served.”
If the growing reaction from around the league, and the rest of the free world is any indication, that’s exactly what could happen.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson called for the fans to boycott Game 5. “If it was me, I wouldn’t come to the game,” he said. “I believe as fans, the loudest statement they could make as far as fans is to not show up to the game.
“As an African-American man that’s a fan of the game of basketball and knows its history and knows what’s right and what’s wrong, I would not come to the game tomorrow, whether I was a Clipper fan or a Warrior fan.”
Lakers President Jeanie Buss weighed in with a statement released by the team.
“The comments and sentiments expressed on the tape are reprehensible and disturbing, and certainly are the opposite of how the Lakers feel about the league’s players and fans,” she said. “I have full confidence that Adam Silver and the NBA will handle this situation appropriately.”
Her words came minutes after a long and emotional statement from Clippers coach and vice president of basketball operations Doc Rivers, who passed on an proposed meeting with Sterling Monday. His team is locked into an intense first round playoff series of their own against the Golden State Warriors and the Sterling sideshow hasn’t helped their cause:
“I would like to reiterate how disappointed I am in the comments attributed to [Donald Sterling] and I can’t even begin to tell you how upset I am and our players are. Today, I had a meeting with the members of our organization. When you are around all these people, you realize they are just as upset and embarrassed by the situation and it does not reflect who they really are. That was what I got from all of them. They are now a part of this and they are upset at this. But, they are all going to hang in there and so are we – I can tell you that as a group and as a team. From our fans’ standpoint, I want to say that they have been amazing, I can tell you that. We need unbelievable support right now from other people and I’m hoping we get that. My hope is that whatever the fans do, it is as one. I think that is what we all should do.
“We want to make the right decisions here. We’re doing our very best to try and do that. We know that fans are in a dilemma as well. We want them to cheer for their players and their team. It will always be their players and their team. From the fans that I have heard from, that’s how they feel. ‘This is my team. These are my players that I’m cheering for and that’s not going to change.’ I hope STAPLES Center is packed and people are cheering for the players. The players are now in the middle of this, and they have to deal with it.
James said he has spoken to his good friend Chris Paul, the Clippers’ All-Star point guard and the president of the players’ union. He wouldn’t share any details but did say they had been in extensive contact.
There’s no doubt in his mind that the Clippers were impacted by the drama in their Game 4 loss to the Warriors Sunday.
“Big time … Big time,” he said. “I don’t care what people say, I believe it was all in their minds. You try to focus on the game but … that wasn’t the Clippers team I’m accustomed to watching. And I think a lot of that [Sterling fallout] had to do with it. Don’t take no credit away form the Warriors. They played exceptionally well, too. But we are in support of the Clippers and whatever they decide to do. We are in support of the Clippers.”
If anything, Rivers seems much more ambivalent about his future with the organization, depending on what happens with Sterling. During a Monday afternoon media session he would not commit to returning as coach for the 2014-15 season. And he seems to have gotten angrier and even more emotional as the gravity of the situation has sunk in.
The Clippers have become a global news item, far beyond the sports world, but for all the wrong reasons.
More from Rivers in his statement:
“We are all trying to figure out everything as it goes and just do our best and we hope that it is the right answer. I’m still going to do my best and do what I think is best for the team and for everybody in this case. It is very difficult because there are so many emotions in this. This is a very emotional subject, this is personal.
“My belief is that the longer we keep winning, the more we talk about this. I believe that is good. If we want to make a statement – I believe that is how we have to do it. I think that is the right way to do it, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t wrestle with it every day and every moment. That is the difficult part.
“We are all doing our best here. Our players are doing their best. There are a lot of people involved in this. From one man’s comments, a lot of people have been affected and the conversations that we’re all having do need to be had.”
The most intriguing conversation yet to be had will come Tuesday afternoon when Silver steps up to the microphone and details the findings from the league’s investigation.
Folks from Los Angeles to Miami, NBA players in particular, can’t wait to hear what the Commissioner has to say.