Did the bold, historic punishment NBA Commissioner Adam Silver meted out to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling avert a players’ boycott of Tuesday night playoff games?
Roger Mason Jr., the first vice-president of the National Basketball Players Association, said it did. Players were so outraged by Sterling’s racist comments that they were prepared to stage a walkout if Sterling’s punishment didn’t measure up.
“I heard from our players and all of our players felt like boycotting the games tonight,” Mason said. “We’re talking about all NBA players. We’re talking about the playoff games tonight.”
In a late-afternoon press conference in Los Angeles, Mason said he spoke to player representatives from every playoff team and there was no dissent. Games between the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards, the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors and Clippers would have been affected.
“I reached out to other players around the league and made it clear the players were ready to boycott the games if this type of action was not something that Adam Silver felt was necessary,” Mason said. “I’m happy to come here today and say that, as players, we’re very happy with the decision, but we’re not content yet. We want immediate action. We want a timetable from the owners as far as when this vote is going to happen. We feel confident that with Adam Silver’s urging and obviously we’ve heard from a lot of the owners around the league, we think this is something that can be handled quickly.”
Over the weekend, players had been buoyed by strong comments from several of their leaders, past and present: Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan (also an owner), LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. The Clippers protested before Game 4 Sunday afternoon, removing their shooting shirts with the big Clippers logo and leaving them at midcourt. Instead, they wore inside-out shirts with the smallest of logos on their warmup pants. During the game, they wore black armbands. On Monday, players in two playoff games wore black socks in a gesture of solidarity. No doubt that got the owners’ attention.
“We were prepared in the event that this decision [to ban and remove Sterling] didn’t come down to move forward that way. We didn’t think this was just a Clippers issue, so we didn’t want to put the pressure on Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and that team. We wanted to band behind our brothers to do the right thing and that would have been to communicate with the other teams in our league and let them know what we were going to do.”
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said his players hadn’t discussed not playing because “I think they had the trust there would be” resolution of the issue by Silver. “I’m glad we don’t have to find out.”
The Clippers’ Game 5 opponent, the Golden State Warriors, planned to walkout if Silver’s punishment had not been severe. “It would have been our only chance to make a statement in front of the biggest audience that we weren’t going to accept anything but the maximum punishment,” Stephen Curry said. “We would deal with the consequences later, but we were not going to play.”