The Wizards closed out the Chicago Bulls in five games on Tuesday at United Center to reach the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2005 and backup point guard Garrett Temple was one of the more spirited cheerleaders on the bench, shooting from his seat to applaud big plays and hand out high-fives during timeouts. Temple’s enthusiasm was eventually rewarded with a late 20-second stint in which he forced Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler into missing a layup.
But for Temple, the greater victory for the Wizards – and NBA players as a whole – came hours earlier when NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced that he was going to ban Los Angeles Clippers owner David Sterling for life after the release of recordings in which Sterling made incendiary and offensive comments.
As he walked into the shower after Tuesday’s win, Temple said he told his teammates, “We moved on to the second round. Now Sterling is out of the NBA. It’s a great day to be an NBA player and to be a Washington Wizard.”
Temple is the Wizards’ representative in the players’ union and he watched intently Silver’s highly anticipated news conference to announce the punishment for Sterling. When Silver said that he would ban Sterling “for life,” fine him $2.5 million and force him to sell his franchise, Temple said he pleasantly surprised.
“I honestly was shocked when it did happen, but [Hall of Fame player] James Worthy said it best, that basically it was the only option. You don’t want to guy that in your organization. In America, we have freedom of speech, but in the NBA, we don’t need anybody like that representing our league,” Temple said, adding that the decision gave him newfound respect for Silver. “The way he came off, he really showed that he is the commissioner of the NBA now. I was proud to be a part of the NBA and for him to show how much support he has for his players – and obviously those that are African American – I think that was real big for him to make the statement that he did. I think it was the right thing to do.”
Union vice president and former Wizard Roger Mason Jr. said NBA players were prepared to boycott playoff games if Silver didn’t levy a strong enough punishment on an owner who was caught on tape complaining to his mistress for “associating with black people,” among other racially charged comments. Temple was not on the conference call with other members of the union when the subject of a boycott was discussed but said the Wizards hadn’t considered taking that extreme before facing the Bulls.
“I did hear about that, but we didn’t contemplate that. At the end of the day, I really felt that Adam Silver was going to come out…and give us something that we all expected,” Temple said. “I honestly didn’t think that, but I think if he would’ve suspended him indefinitely and did the same thing about asking the owners to force him to sell, I think that would’ve been enough for the players to play, the ones that did contemplate not playing.”
When Temple boarded the first bus over to the arena on Tuesday, he said all of the players were aware of the decision. Sterling’s comments had been a topic of discussion within the locker room ever since they were revealed early Saturday morning.
“Most guys were shocked. At first I was trying, most guys were trying to give him the benefit of the doubt until it got to the point where he was ranting on and on,” Temple said. “I mean, there’s a lot of ignorance in this world, but if you can get it out of your league, it’s necessary. Most guys all felt the same way, for the simple fact that it’s not something we want from our league, especially from a guy that’s at the top of a team, that owns a team. But we didn’t want it or let it deter us from our goals. We wanted to make sure all of our focus was on our series.”
Temple is good friends with Clippers forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis and spoke with him after the Clippers lost Game 4 on Sunday, a day after several members of the team considered not playing. Instead, the Clippers staged a silent protest by wearing their shooting shirts inside out and throwing their warmup tops on center court.
“He didn’t have any incidents with [Sterling] prior to that but he was saying how crazy it is and how ignorant those comments that he made were,” Temple said. “He did say most of the guys on the team were very upset by it. I asked if [the Game 4 loss] was because of those statements. He said ‘Nah, we didn’t play as well we should’ve.’ But the more he thought about it, it did affect him a little bit.”
If he had been in the same situation, Temple said he would’ve played because he doesn’t suit up to play for an owner. “You’re happy that he that he’s paying you to play a game that you love to play, but at the end of the day, I’m playing for my Lord and savior, first and foremost, for my family and I’m playing for my other family – and that’s my teammates.”
Temple was relieved that Silver made a swift and resounding statement. “The thing is, we’re basketball players, but we’re human beings first,” Temple said. “This is a human issue. It reached across people that don’t even watch basketball. They have a reason to listen in on what Donald Sterling said. What Adam Silver did was push him away from the NBA. We don’t want him anywhere near our league and we don’t want him associated with our league.”