By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
SAN FRANCISCO — An angry Doc Rivers, while conceding that reported racial comments by owner Donald T. Sterling are a distraction and that players briefly discussed a boycott to underline their united protest against them, insisted Saturday that the Clippers remain focused on their championship hopes and, most immediately, Game 4 on Sunday against the Warriors.
“I don’t know if I’m surprised or not,” Rivers, the coach and head of basketball operations, said of the recorded conversation — posted on the TMZ website — between a woman and a man identified as Sterling. “I didn’t like the comments, obviously.
“I’m going to tell you now I’m speaking on behalf of the team, so the players are not going to deal with this issue. We had a great team meeting this morning about it. A lot of guys voiced their opinions. None of them were happy about it. This is a situation where we’re trying to go after something very important for us, something that we’ve all dreamed about all our childhoods. Donald or anyone else had nothing to do with that dream. We’re not going to let anything get in the way of those dreams. As far as the comments, we were not happy with any of them. But we’re going to let the due process, everything, get handled, and that situation will be handled later. Right now, our goals haven’t changed. Our focus is on Golden State and it’s going to stay on Golden State.
“It does [impact]. But you’ve got to move on. I mean, what are we going to do? It has an impact and you move on. It upsets all of us. There’s not one guy that’s happy with this situation. Do you think I want to be talking about this instead of trying to stop Steph Curry? I don’t. I don’t like all the phone calls I’ve been getting and all that stuff. We try to keep clutter — it’s been our word all year, keeping clutter away from our team, and it’s been brought to our team. It upsets me. It upsets our team. Having said that, we have something that we’re playing for right now and we’re going to deal with that. The other stuff, we’ll deal with later.”
What the future implications could be were not immediately clear. But Rivers, speaking in a testy tone at odds with his jocular manner even in the most tense of playoff situations, made no attempt to cover for his boss. He circled the wagons and made sure everyone understood Sterling does not have a wagon.
Rivers was asked if he had talked to Sterling and said: “We have not. We have not tried, honestly. Like I said, this is something that Donald and his family and everyone else, they’re going to have to figure that part out. We don’t need a talk, all right? We don’t need that. We need to deal with Golden State.”
Do you want to talk to him?
“Not right now,” Rivers said after practice at the University of San Francisco in preparation for Game 4 in Oakland. “I want to deal with my team. This is a distraction. For me, I’m going to focus on my guys. I came here for them. They came here because of each other. Our goals have not changed. It’s like one of the players said. ‘Hey, when I was a kid and had a goal to win a world championship, it was to do that. It wasn’t to win a world championship for someone.’ And that’s our goal.
“Listen, they’re young men. It shouldn’t be African-American men. We have two white guys. It’s about being human. We’re not going to get to what race we are because we represent each other and this is our team and that’s the way we’re going to keep it. No one was happy about it. J.J. Redick was just as pissed as Chris Paul, and that’s the way it should be. Having said that, our goal is to win the NBA title and we’re not going to let anything stand in the way of that. That’s adversity that we didn’t want, but we have it, we have to deal with it. We’ll deal with it internally, but we’re not going to share it with anybody else.”
The idea of a boycott, as soon as Sunday at Oracle Arena, “was brought up because I’m sure 20,000 people have suggested it. But, honestly, I’m completely against that and they were too. Why should we let someone’s comments stop what we’re trying to do? We’re trying to do something too here and we don’t want that [Sterling] to get in the way of what we want to do.”
A reporter suggested the issue of racial insensitivity is bigger than the game.
“For you,” Rivers shot back. “Yeah, it’s easy for you to say. You haven’t worked since [you were] 2 years old to win a title. So, yeah, that’s simple. ‘It’s bigger than the game.’ For you it may be. Right now, this game is business for us and we’re trying to win a title and we’re not going to allow something to get in the way. The league is going to handle this. The players association will handle this as well. As a group, what we have to do is stay together. I think the biggest statement we could make as men — as men, not as black men, as men — is to stick together and show how strong we are as a group. Not splinter. Not walk. It’s easy to protest. The protest will be in our play.”