When vile, racist comments were released, allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, there was a lot of speculation about what his own players would do in response as they prepared to suit up for a playoff game against the Golden State Warriors.
In the end, the team decided to take the floor but throw their Clippers jackets to the ground and wear their warmup gear inside out as a form of protest. Many players also had black socks, arm and wristbands.
But former Clippers player and current Detroit Piston Chauncey Billups said that he would have gone even farther. He discussed his feelings with the Detroit News and are reported in a great, powerful column by Vincent Goodwill:
"There's no way I would've took that floor yesterday, even if all my teammates would've been wanting to play," Billups said. "There's no way. This is bigger than basketball and I would've been giving up on my grandparents, their parents and people who really went through that back in those days to make it comfortable for us."
Billups played two injury-plagued seasons in Los Angeles with the Clippers and knows the current players well. He continued:
"If I was (Warriors coach) Mark Jackson or Doc Rivers, I would've loved it if they said, ‘We ain't showing up today.' I don't give a damn about ratings, none of that. We missed out on a great opportunity."
Obviously, it's easier to say that from the outside looking in. The Clippers players have worked all day every day for the past year to be championship contenders and to sacrifice even one game puts that in jeopardy. Perhaps seizing this moment was so important that it is an action the players should have taken but I'm not surprised the Clippers decided to play the game -- for themselves and not their owner.
In fact, it's a point Billups concedes to Goodwill earlier in the piece.
Billups also reiterated much the same sentiment on ESPN radio's SVP & Russillo. Detroit Bad Boys will post that audio if and when it comes available.
Owner Tom Gores also spoke to Goodwill and had this to say:
"We trust (NBA) commissioner Adam Silver to handle this matter swiftly and properly, but let me state without reservation: There is no place for prejudice or intolerance in our league, or anywhere else," Gores told The Detroit News. "That's not a debatable point. It's a first principle."
Forceful, yes, but unlike with the players, whose actions need to be largely symbolic, Gores and his fellow owners have the biggest opportunity to make their actions speak louder than words. They need to do everything in their power to punish Sterling for his conduct, both the recently released audio and his long history of questionable statements and behavior.
But make no mistake, there is no simple solution to this fiasco. It's hard or impossible for the NBA to force Sterling to sell the team that he owns and to banish him from public appearances will do little to appease the angry players, owners and fan base.
Here is a wonderfully thorough but sort of depressing outline of the limits of the NBA's power in sanctioning Sterling by Marc Stein and Romana Shelbourne. Well worth a read.
UPDATE: The full interview with Chauncey Billups on SVP & Russillo is available. A rush transcript follows (emphasis mine):
Scott Van Pelt: Chauncey when I think there is a lot of things that come to mind. Clippers not the first thing I think of, but it was the last part of a nice little NBA career. And I'm just curious as a guy who played fir the Clippers what is the reaction to this and your relation that you had with Sterling. Does this jibe with the guy you know.
Chauncey Billups: Well, I mean obviously it's really disheartening to hear what I heard. And, really, my stomach was in knots listening to that conversation he was having with that young lady and what not. It's crazy. My experience was for two years and he was always pleasant to me and anybody else around. You know, any of the players. He was always pretty pleasant.
You wouldn't think to hear what you heard on that tape, but at the same time when you hear that, you know, you gotta say, OK, well, that's who he is.
-- snip --
SVP: If you put yourself on that roster this year and you got a game 3 yesterday what should you do. What would you have done?
CB: Well, I'm going to be honest with you. There's no way I would've played in that game, man.
CB: No. No, I couldn't play in that game because, to be honest with you, it's more than basketball. It's bigger than game 3 or game 4 or game 5 of a first-round series. And, yeah, that's what you play for and you're working for that. But to be honest, if it wasn't for what my grandparents and their parents and their parents went through to make it easy for us to be able to obtain these kind of jobs and be successful in life than I'm probably not here having this success and doing what I'm doing. So I would rather, to be honest with you, I would rather take a stand and have my teammates be mad with me than have to face my grandparents and my parents and people like that when I had an opportunity to do what was right.
SVP: Do you think there was guys on the team yesterday Chauncey that didn't want to play?
CB: Yeah, yeah I do, yeah.
Ryen Russillo: So if you're in Chris Paul's spot. At that point one of the best point guards, I'd say he's the best in the league, max player, has been there. This team has a real chance to win a title, you would have said, "I'm good. I'm not going out there."
CB: Absolutely. Absolutely. And my thing is, to be honest with you, Scott, in Chris Paul's position .. I'm not judging anybody for doing whatever they did because they did it for whatever reasons they believe in. I'm saying what I would have done and to be honest with you if the team would have took a stand like that I think it would have done nothing but put pressure on the league to act fast and to act very stern on what they're going to do with Mr. Sterling.
Trust me, the hammer would have been cracked down way before the next game in Los Angeles. (jumbled).
RR: I agree that the statement made is more powerful than what they did if they were not playing in it. But I also think there is a timeline to this, Chauncey, where the news come out late Friday, early Saturday morning. A game is played. There is audio where, even though there is audio where, even though I think we all as normal guys we agree that it's Sterling. We think it's him, but we don't know. I just think the NBA, we have to allow them 48 hours to investigate this and it's not an insult to anyone else other than having to try and cover their own you-know-whats to make sure when they make a decision that they have the right backing, does that make sense?
CB: No, no, no. that makes 100 percent sense. They definitely have to do their due diligence for sure. For sure. 100 percent I agree with that 100 percent and I'm pretty sure Mr. Silver is going to make the right decision and the right call on what he should and is supposed to do to Mr. Sterling. I have 100 percent confidence in that. For sure. However, that is not going to affect what I feel and what I'm going to do as far as my personal feelings for working for a guy like that .
SVP: Chauncey how do you balance these goals you worked for all year and not allowing the knucklehead comments of the guy who cuts the checks to get in the way of what you guys are trying to do. How do you do that?
CB: I'm not sure. Not sure. And obviously you know it's easy to say what you may have done when yo're not in those shoes. And I respect that. But I'm not sure how you balance that. If you look at how the guys came out yesterday, I think, subconsciously a lot of those guys weren't really there. They just weren't there. They didn't play perfect basketball. And that could have happened if nothing ever was said from Mr. Sterling. However, they just weren't there. They weren't ready. Mentally, they weren't into the game. It wasn't fair to play basketball yesterday, and I think it had a lot to do with what's going on.
SVP: Can they win this series?
CB: Oh yeah. I think they're the better team. Obviously momentum shifted a little bit. Those guys played well, Golden State yesterday. But, yeah, I think they can win it in six, in my opinion.
SVP: Chauncey, Ryen and I were talking about just Doc. And I think he's the perfect man to have in this spot because he's got credibility in every way you can. He's bright, he can be honest, and I thought, the NBA, if you can get lucky in a situation like this, I think they got lucky because Doc's the guy in charge there. What do you think about that?
CB: Oh, I agree 100 percent. I mean, you can't have a better leader, you can't have a better guy up top that has the standing in the face of this adversity that's going on right now, you couldn't have a better guy. And I think that's probably Chris and all them guys on the team the confidence to go out and compete because they know, we've got a guy up top in Doc Rivers, he's going to handle this for us.