Not Easy for NBA Players to Focus on the Game in Wake of Stunning Election

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterNovember 10, 2016

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 09:  Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers motions to his teammates during a 111-80 win over the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on November 9, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Every Portland Trail Blazers player linked his arms with another as they stood together.

A young man with a black turban on his head and black beard on his face assumed the spotlight and began playing the national anthem on his violin.

Chris Paul closed his eyes, put his hand over his heart and began to sing.

All was not right with the world or the country at the time, yet it did not feel so bad before tipoff at Staples Center on Wednesday night.

This was, is and will continue to be the role of sports in our lives: Sometimes an escape, sometimes an inspiration, the sports world is mostly our reflection.

Real people, real issues—with a side dish of fantastic competition.

Paul had watched the presidential election that saw Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton the previous night with his seven-year-old son.

"You have to move on and move forward," said Paul, who endorsed Clinton in a video last week urging people to vote. "The toughest part is watching the whole experience with little Chris…just explaining to him what's happening.

"Puts everything in perspective. You're a parent, you're a dad, before basketball."

Two-and-a-half years ago during the national anthem, Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers wore their warm-up shirts inside out to hide their team logo in protest against the team owner, Donald Sterling, and his racially offensive remarks.

That was a far different story than this one. You couldn't find anyone who sided with that bully, and going against Sterling wound up having a galvanizing effect on a variety of communities.

The NBA forced Sterling to sell his red, white and blue franchise, and when asked Wednesday for any update on Sterling's whereabouts or activities, one Clippers employee answered: "I really don't know—and I really don't want to know."

Sterling is a forgotten man, but part of his legacy is that many of these Clippers have unsolicited experience compartmentalizing off-court distractions and focusing on their jobs. That's one reason this game Wednesday was no match; the Clippers led by 48 points in the third quarter en route to a 111-80 victory.

Paul and Co. were facing a Portland team tired from playing the night before and then staying up late to monitor the election results, with stars Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum both tweeting prayer hands after midnight in response to Trump's impending victory.

Maybe Blazers head coach Terry Stotts should've discussed the changing political climate with his team, as other NBA teams were moved to do. But he didn't, and Lillard was blunt about the game result.

"Got our ass whupped," he said.

On his Twitter account, Lillard offered more, retweeting a transcript of Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy's furious rant earlier Wednesday about Trump's election.

"I don't think anybody can deny this guy is openly and brazenly racist and misogynistic," Van Gundy told reporters. "...I can't say I've ever been ashamed of our country until today."

Van Gundy declined to discuss basketball when he spoke at the Pistons' shootaround. It was a similar feeling when Clippers head coach Doc Rivers spoke before his game, comparing Clinton's side to the losing one in sports that is left to learn the lesson: "Never underestimate your opponent."

Rivers, the anchor for Clippers players during the Sterling saga, spoke freely about his election frustration to the point that he said, "We shouldn't even talk about basketball today."

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 09:  Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers speaks to Marreese Speights #5 during the first half against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on November 9, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly
Harry How/Getty Images

But the connection between the NBA, in large part composed of black players, and race-related issues is undeniable. Among black voters, Clinton got 88 percent of the vote to Trump's 8 percent, according to exit polls.

Clippers guard Jamal Crawford was left to re-evaluate how hip-hop hero Kanye West suggested at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards he would run for president.

"Seriously, when Kanye said it, I'm like, 'Kanye for President'? Like it was a joke," Crawford said. "But anything is possible."

That sort of unpredictability graces sports often, and the upset is something to celebrate. It's just that we expect the real world to stay more grounded.

We expect it, but we don't always get it.

And when we don't, that's when it's so nice to lose ourselves in visuals of Paul zipping passes that resemble the pregame laser show and DeAndre Jordan joyously celebrating by flapping his arms the same way team mascot Chuck the Condor does.

That's the escape and the inspiration we need.

But the games and athletes are real, and even as they entertain us, they reflect our society.

And so Sikh-American violinist Raginder Singh Momi played the anthem for the Blazers and Clippers, Democrats and Republicans. Earlier in the day, however, he had tweeted this:

Whatever separation we have from half of our fellow citizens after this election, we are also left with a better understanding of that disharmony—and how we must deal with it.

The NBA reflects the disharmony and the ways in which we can deal with it, same as it made clear people such as Sterling live among us and made clear 25 years ago that people such as Magic Johnson could contract the HIV virus.

In all cases, it demonstrated we can grow individually and work together to move forward.

"Don't get mad. Go do something," Rivers said. "I say that to my players all the time: Do something about it. That's my thing right now. Go do something about it if you want change." 

       

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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