After team owner Donald Sterling was caught making racist remarks on tape, a franchise on the rise suddenly entered into a floundering state. How could the players and coaches motivate themselves not only to focus on basketball, but also to win games for a person they considered absolutely despicable?
But then came Silver's press conference Tuesday afternoon, which you can see below:
The sanctions doled out included a $2.5 million fine (the maximum amount allowed under the NBA bylaws), a lifetime ban and a pledge to have the other owners vote on Sterling's official removal. And at this point, the vote seems like a mere formality, as every team has expressed its support of the first-year commissioner.
Those penalties will have far-reaching impact on the Clippers organization. It's worth noting that I'm operating under the assumption that Sterling's stake in the LAC franchise will be removed sooner rather than later, but a change at the top will result in quite a few more positive developments for everyone involved.
Sponsors Will Return
As soon as the Sterling audio tape was released to the general public, there was a mass exodus, as sponsors couldn't move quickly enough to cut ties with the Clippers. They simply didn't want their brand associated with LAC for one second longer than necessary, not with a cloud of racism swirling above the Staples Center.
Was it one sponsor? Absolutely not, as things seemed to happen in bunches. Cindy Boren of The Washington Post provided us with a great summary of the sweeping changes:
CarMax pulled its nine-year sponsorship of the Clippers, saying in a statement that it “finds the statements attributed to the Clippers’ owner completely unacceptable,” and State Farm announced that it is “taking a pause in its relationship” with the team. In the early afternoon, Virgin America ended its sponsorship, according to CNBC’s Ryan Ruggiero. So did the Chumash Resort Casino, the team’s presenting sponsor for four years, and Mercedes-Benz. By midafternoon, Kia Motors America, Red Bull, Lumber Liquidators, Yokohama Tire, LoanMart, Corona, AQUAhydrate and Sprint had suspended their sponsorships. Amtrak, USA Today reported, “is working to remove any remnants of a sponsorship agreement it had with the Clippers that expired at the end of the regular season.” A spokesman said it will monitor the situation as it considers 2014-15 marketing sponsorships in sports.
If you take the time to count that list of companies, you'll need more than just your fingers. There are 14, including Amtrak, which hadn't confirmed a termination of its agreement with the Clippers.
To be fair, many of the companies maintained relationships with individual players. Red Bull, for example, said that it would "continue to support our Red Bull athlete, Blake Griffin, his teammates and coaching staff in their pursuit of an NBA title," per Boren.
But fortunately for the Clippers, it doesn't seem as though this will continue; in fact, a reversal is likely in the near future.
Even during his press conference announcing the sanctions being levied upon Sterling, Silver expressed his desire for a return of the sponsors, per Tiffany Hsu and Andrea Chang of the Los Angeles Times.
"Those marketing partners of the Clippers and partners of the entire NBA should judge us on our response to this incident," Silver noted. "I would hope that they would return to their business relationship with the Clippers."
Adidas was the first to do so, according to The Wall Street Journal's Sara Germano:
Breaking: Adidas has reinstated its LA Clippers sponsorship and will replace signage at Staples Center tonight w/team logo— Sara Germano (@germanotes) April 29, 2014
Adidas: as LT NBA partner, "we are proud that the Commissioner is taking serious action to ensure prejudice is not tolerated in the game."— Sara Germano (@germanotes) April 29, 2014
After an industry mogul like Adidas gets back on board, it seems likely that the floodgates will open. Maybe they'll be delayed until the other 29 owners scattered throughout the NBA's organizations decide to put an official end to Sterling's lordship over the Clippers, but the sponsors should eventually come flowing back in.
If anything, it's more likely that LAC gains support from companies down the road than loses it. Not in the immediate future, as damage control is still necessary to recover from such a public relations disaster, but certainly a few years from today.
Offseason Appeal Grows
The negativity associated with Sterling is nothing new; it's persisted for years, as the world was well aware that he wasn't exactly the most high-quality character. This latest bit of news was just the straw 2x4 that broke the camel's back.
It's not Sterling's job to bring attention to his ethical transgressions. That's the job of the media. And as it relates to Sterling, we have dropped the ball.
More than just talking about racism and debating whether it exists in a few situations, we should attack it directly, especially when it's so destructive and glaring.
It was fun to laugh at Donald Sterling when he was a joke. Now that we know what he's up to when he's being serious, he deserves a lot more attention.
That's a snippet of Bomani Jones' ESPN.com article about Sterling, calling him out for his racism and demanding that we stop dropping the ball on dealing with it.
It was written in 2006.
Sterling has never been highly thought of as an owner, between the housing issues, the closet (and sometimes not-so-closeted) racism and the general incompetence running the show for the Clippers. He's one of the primary reasons the team was a laughingstock for so long before landing Blake Griffin in the NBA draft and pairing him with Chris Paul shortly thereafter.
Even if the team is now a highly competitive one that's actually capable of winning a championship, let's not forget that in Sterling's time as owner—which has spanned from 1981 through the present day, making him the longest-tenured owner in the league—the team has made the playoffs only seven times. Three of those postseason appearances have come in the past three years.
Not once has the team won a championship. Not once has it even advanced to the Western Conference Finals.
The Clippers have played little brother to the Los Angeles Lakers year after year, drawing in free-agency leftovers and generally receiving pity laughs from the rest of the Association. Prior to the arrival of CP3 and the accompanying legitimacy, of course.
Did Sterling affect the composition of the team? Well, just take this excerpt from a recent Yahoo! Sports article by Adrian Wojnarowski:
Mostly, he's never loved paying white players. In that way, he has an absolute plantation prism with which he sees players: He always preferred long, strong, physical players. To him, that's a basketball player: Big, black and strong.
When Sterling became reluctant to honor Rivers' sign-and-trade agreement for J.J. Redick, there was a belief race played a factor. As one league source said, "He thought it was too much to pay for a white player."
So he's reluctant to pay for white players and racist toward everyone else?
Talk about a stellar combination. To answer the question up above about his impact on the team composition—yes, he had a big one.
All of a sudden, the reins have been released from the Clippers' offseason pursuits, a statement that applies to all parties involved. No longer will an owner attempt to let non-basketball thoughts dictate his basketball decisions, and no longer will players be scared of having to work for Sterling.
Marquee free agents might have been hesitant to join this particular Hollywood-based franchise before Silver came down with the sledgehammer. Why play for a beleaguered franchise with a racist owner, even if it's a team on the rise?
But new ownership will usher in a new era (again, this is predicated on the owners actually voting Sterling out), and the free agents won't be hesitant to see what the Clippers are all about.
There's no reason for them to be anymore.
When Game 4 of the first-round matchup against the Golden State Warriors rolled around, the Clippers weren't exactly prepared to compete, and they were torched by Stephen Curry to the tune of a 118-97 loss.
After the contest, Doc Rivers even admitted that his team wasn't ready.
"I'm not going to deny that we had other stuff," the head coach told the Associated Press, via ESPN. "I just believe when the game starts, the game starts and nobody cares anymore. Golden State surely didn't care."
Not to take credit away from the Dubs, but in many ways, the game was an afterthought. It was an afterthought to the audio of Sterling that TMZ released. It was an afterthought to the pile of warmups at center court. Above all else, it was an afterthought to the uncertainty of what would come next.
But after Silver's heavy-handed decision to punish Sterling with the full extent of his powers, Game 5 was different.
Behind an explosive performance from DeAndre Jordan, who recorded 25 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks, the Clippers took a 3-2 lead in the series thanks to their 10-point victory. The game just had a different feel, almost as though a giant weight had been lifted from the collective back of the Los Angeles squad.
After the final buzzer sounded, Paul told the Associated Press, via ESPN, "I think it (the Silver press conference) put a lot of guys' minds at ease. It's been tough the last few days, but we've been getting through it."
Relief filled up Staples Center, not anger, unabashed vitriol and various stages of depression. And it showed on the court. All of a sudden, the Clippers transitioned from a doomed team just waiting to be eliminated into an impassioned squad full of belief that their performance could help rectify the wrongs of their franchise's owner.
As Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding wrote, they became America's Team:
With these Clippers fans who’d been hiding in the shadows for days, likewise unsure if their identity, these team employees and players all came together in the same room. The place was filled with people who all brought a renewed optimism about the Clippers, the NBA and even American society.
What had been bottled up for all found an outlet.
Regardless of the outcome of the series against Golden State, the Clippers can actually feel as though they're free to play basketball now. They can focus on the court, not spend time on the hardwood wondering about the uncertainty of the situation off of it.
Whether or not that results in a series win—or even a championship—the lifetime ban of Sterling and the expected removal of him as an owner will have a positive impact on the short-term future.
And as for the long-term future?
Well, that just might be even better.