New Orleans In the category called “racist comments of the week,” Donald Sterling’s reported comments telling his former mistress not to bring African-Americans to the Los Angeles Clippers ball games or be seen with them, ended up topping the charts. The Clippers team in protest wore their warm-up jerseys backwards, essentially hiding the team’s name, and saying they were playing for each other rather than the owner, and then proceeded to lose, pretty badly to the Golden State Warriors. Sterling was barred from the game and debate has raged about how he will be punished by the league and the other owners, but controversy has also raged in some quarters about whether the Clippers should have boycotted and forfeited the game. One New York Times’ columnist went so far as to say that years from now, the players are going to regret that they weren’t the men they should have been when they had the chance.
The acknowledged leader of the Clippers is their point guard, the incomparable Chris Paul. In my family we’re Chris Paul fans from his multi-year stint with the New Orleans team, now the Pelicans. In every way he’s a class act and I’ve continued to follow him closely, and I’m especially proud of not just his court play, but also his leadership of NBA Players’ Association as their union president.
Sterling’s remarks have been condemned by every major voice for the players including LeBron James and Michael Jordan who have said there is no place for him in the NBA. Magic Johnson has said he’ll never go to another game while Sterling owns the Clippers and feels sorry for his friends, Chris Paul and Doc Rivers, the coach.
Maybe I’m biased too much in Paul’s favor, but I read his statements about an “aggressive” response by the union and pushing the role of Kevin Johnson, former NBA all-star and Mayor of Sacramento, in leading the search for a new executive director and an expanded voice for the players, as seizing the opportunity to make the most out of the crisis to build the union and the players’ voice. Paul, a perpetual assist leader and court manager, undoubtedly had a strong role in the Clippers courtside decision. I think this is a big opportunity for the union, and that Paul is going for another assist, seeing an opening, and pushing the union down the court to the goal.
He could have gone for a one-off play, but seems to be looking at his leverage here. The vast majority of the players are African-American, and the NBA may be caught in a legal bind here where property rights, trumps racism and public approbation, which means that Paul could catapult the union into being the higher, moral authority here, increasing the power of the union and the share for the players in saving the league and its revenues for the future.
Paul has proven over and over again that he’s more interested in the team winning than the line by his name in the box score or the headlines in the sports’ page, and I’ll bet money, that this time his team is both the Clippers and the union, and he’s got his sights on 4-point play here.