With their high-priced, All-Star-laden roster on the precipice of a series-deciding Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Clippers would like to concentrate on basketball. But no matter how hard they try, it seems the cloud of controversy surrounding exiled owner Donald Sterling will follow.
The latest comes via his wife, Shelly, who was shown on TNT arriving at Staples Center for Saturday night's game. Her husband, Donald, was banned from the NBA for life by commissioner Adam Silver in a press conference this week and is not allowed to attend games regardless of venue.
Shelly Sterling, who was not tied in any way to the racist sentiments espoused by her husband on recordings leaked to TMZ last week, did not attend Game 6 in Golden State. She was, however, at Game 5 at Staples Center dressed in black as a sign of solidarity with Clippers players and the NBA.
"She's been through as much as anyone as well," Clippers coach Doc Rivers told reporters after Game 5. "And so she just wanted... She asked if she could come, which I thought was a very nice gesture. And she just wanted the players to know that ... she told me to tell 'em that she loves 'em. So I thought, why not?"
The reaction to Shelly Sterling's attendance at the pivotal Game 7, however, has not nearly been as kind. ESPN's Arash Markazi reported that multiple people within the organization were displeased with her decision to attend. Markazi did not indicate whether those sources were players, coaches or both.
Earlier Saturday, the NBA announced it would be working with the organization to appoint a new chief executive officer while working to sell the team. There was no word on whom the NBA would choose, but the league indicated it would move "quickly" to resolve the situation. Donald Sterling is barred from any association with the organization and therefore relinquished his final say in fiduciary matters.
In a statement released to media outlets, Shelly Sterling said she fully supports the NBA's decision to appoint an acting CEO:
I spoke with Commissioner Adam Silver this week to tell him that I fully supported his recent swift and decisive action. We also agreed at that time that, as a next step, both the league and the team should work together to find some fresh, accomplished executive leadership for the Clippers. I welcome his active involvement in the search for a person of the utmost character, proven excellence and a commitment to promoting equality and inclusiveness.
Of course, Shelly Sterling is not without her own questionable history. Kevin Armstrong of the New York Daily News uncovered court documents this week that showed Shelly Sterling, who had been accused of discriminatory behavior in the oft-cited housing lawsuit against her husband, has expressed hateful views toward blacks and Latinos in the past.
It is unlikely the NBA could or would take action for those comments, given it did not punish Donald when he settled the case out of court.
The issue with Shelly Sterling attending a Clippers game—no matter its importance—is one of taste. Fair or not, there are many inside and outside the organization who identify her first and foremost as the wife of the man who spewed hateful rhetoric and got himself banned from the NBA.
Silver has said that the lifetime ban only applies to Donald Sterling and that other members of the family are free to attend games and other functions if they so choose.
That Shelly Sterling chose to do it as the Clippers prepare for possible elimination is, at the very least, a questionable choice. We'll have to see whether the team comes out distracted the way it did in Game 4 or if Sterling's presence continues to cultivate the "we are one" attitude Rivers and Co. have had since the story broke.
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