OAKLAND, Calif. — The Los Angeles Clippers chose not to speak publicly about owner Donald Sterling before they faced the Golden State Warriors for Game 4 of their first-round series Sunday. Instead, they made a silent protest to generate attention.
In response to Sterling's purported comments urging a woman to not bring black people to his team's games, the Clippers let their uniforms become a show of solidarity.
They ran out of the tunnel wearing their usual warmups. Then they huddled at center court and tossed the outer layer of their warmups to the ground, going through their pregame routine with their red Clippers' shirts on inside out to hide the team's logo.
Players also wore black wristbands or armbands during the game, which they lost 118-97. They also donned black socks with their normal jerseys.
“It's just us, only us. We're all we got,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul could be heard shouting to teammates before they ran out.
The Warriors' announced sellout crowd of 19,596, decked out in gold shirts, booed the Clippers – as they always do – during team introductions.
Sterling's wife was sitting courtside across from the Clippers' bench. Commissioner Adam Silver had said Donald Sterling would not be at the game.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said prior to the game that he would remain the only one to speak for the team on the issue because players wanted to remain focused on basketball. Afterward, Rivers said he knew what his players had planned but didn't voice his opinion.
Rivers said he wasn't thrilled about the demonstration, though he didn't elaborate why. Even he, though, acknowledged that staying focused has not been easy since TMZ released the alleged recording of Sterling.
“Our message is to play,” Rivers said. “Our message is that we're going to let no one and nothing stop us from what we want to do. And I think that's a good message. I really do. I think that's the message we're trying to send. And if we can pull this off all the way, I think that would be a terrific message.”
In an overcrowded postgame locker room, most of the Clippers' players deflected comment or refused to answer questions related to Sterling – other than to say they remain united and focused on basketball.
Shooting guard J.J. Redick, who is white, said the controversy has impacted everybody on the team and around the league. He also admitted it might have affected their preparation.
“Maybe our focus wasn't in the right place would be the easiest way to say it,” Redick said. “I didn't get the sense that we couldn't function. I thought we competed, but give them a lot of credit as well. It wasn't just the distraction of everything that has happened in the last 24 hours. Golden State played a great basketball game, let's keep that in mind.”
While the Clippers wanted to let their play do the talking, other NBA players continued to speak out on the subject.
Some talked about the hurt Sterling's alleged words caused. Others urged Silver to take an aggressive stance against Sterling, who has a history of alleged discrimination. Most of them hoped Sterling would be removed as the team's owner someday soon.
Miami Heat star LeBron James said Silver needed to take action, going so far as to suggest “there is no room for Donald Sterling in our league.” Lakers star Kobe Bryant wrote on his Twitter page that he couldn't play for Sterling. Warriors coach Mark Jackson, who played for the Clippers from 1992-94, said he could forgive Sterling but couldn't play for him right now, either.
Asked if he needed to hear something from the league or Sterling to return as coach next year, Rivers said he didn't know and that he was just concentrating on the playoff series.
At the Trail Blazers' playoff game against the Houston Rockets on Sunday night, Portland players all wore black socks in solidarity with the Clippers players.
“I wanted to do something to support our brothers,” Blazers All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge said before the game in Portland.
The players union, still without an executive director since firing Billy Hunter in February 2013, is following the situation closely. The union has asked former NBA All-Star and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to take a leading role on the players' behalf to address the Sterling matter.
Johnson and Silver attended the game Sunday. Johnson said he called an emergency phone meeting of every player representative to the union Saturday night and spoke with Silver before the game. He said this is a “defining moment” for the NBA and for Silver.
Johnson said players trust that the commissioner will meet their demands, which include: Sterling not attend any NBA games for the rest of the playoffs; a full account of past allegations of discrimination by Sterling and why the league never sanctioned him; the range of options that the league can penalize Sterling, including the maximum penalty, which players want if the audio recording is validated; assurance that the NBA and the union will be partners in the investigation; and an immediate and decisive ruling, hopefully before the Clippers host the Warriors for Game 5 on Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
Johnson also said there will be no league-wide protest by players or a boycott because there's enough attention on the issue already and that players “trust Adam Silver. They trust that Adam Silver will do the right thing.”