The Washington Mystics were taking part in media day this afternoon when coach and general manager Mike Thibault was asked about racially charged comments attributed to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Thibault spent the first part of his career in professional basketball with the Los Angeles Lakers in the early 1980s, initially as a scout and then director of scouting and as an assistant coach.
Thibault was part of NBA title teams in 1979-80 and 1981-82 under then-coach Paul Westhead and left the organization after the second championship to join the Chicago Bulls as an assistant. In Chicago, Thibault was part of the staff that acquired Michael Jordan, Charles Oakley and John Paxson, among others.
“Well, I think most everything has been said,” Thibault said of an audio recording in which a person believed to be Sterling makes repeated disparaging remarks about African-Americans. “My position is that doesn’t belong anywhere in society, and it doesn’t belong anywhere in our sport. It’s an NBA and societal thing. As a WNBA coach, I don’t know if it’s my place to comment on it beyond that the league is going to do what they know is right. That’s just not a part of who we are or should be, and I’m saddened that it’s happened.”
Two months into his tenure as NBA commissioner, Adam Silver said Sunday the league is continuing to investigate the matter and that Sterling would not be attending that afternoon’s playoff game between the Clippers and Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. Sterling’s wife, Shelly, from whom he is separated, did attend the game and said in a statement to TMZ, “Our family is devastated by the racist comments made by my estranged husband.”
Early Monday evening, TMZ posted video of the pair leaving a Los Angeles steakhouse Sunday night in which Shelly is seen defending her estranged husband, answering “Of course not” to a question posed by the cameraman asking if the longtime Clippers owner is a racist.
“Just really disappointed, and it’s unfortunate,” said guard Kara Lawson, who is heading into her first season with the Mystics but 12th in the WNBA and also serves as an analyst for ESPN. “We’re part of the union as well. I’m on the executive committee for the WNBA players association, and so those guys have helped us a lot in the NBA players association and the union.
“I think a lot of people are kind of jumping off the Clippers bandwagon because of this. I’m not one of those people. It kind of made me cheer for them even more to be honest because as a player you understand how much you put in, how much you invest to get this point and maximize your ability at this time of the year. And now all of a sudden to have this big distraction kind of hanging over something that you’ve been working toward, I just think it’s unfortunate. For me, I’m really hoping the Clippers do well.”