A lot of people think the Clippers should have boycotted Sunday’s game, but Argun Ulgen wonders if any of us would really do that with as much on the line as the Clippers have?
What is it to expect a man to perform an act that you might not yourself?
That’s one way to justify the Los Angeles Clippers’ refusal to boycott Game 4 of the NBA playoffs in the wake of owner Donald Sterling’s grotesquely overt (yet still only alleged) racist comments.
If you were Chris Paul, having already sustained two ACL knee injuries before turning 30-years-old, would you choose arguably your best chance to win an NBA title as the time to stop playing?
Because make no mistake about it, this is the best team Chris Paul has ever played for. He’s accompanied by a second MVP candidate in Blake Griffin, whose indomitable inside-outside offensive game elevates an otherwise excellent team to a championship squad. The Clippers are 12 deep with unselfish, multi-tool players at every position. Many are in the primes of their careers, which is a rarity considering that several , like Paul, come with extensive injury histories.
Indeed, for once in its otherwise benighted existence, the Clippers are enjoying an optimal combination of health, depth, and dynamism. This pinnacle could be reached again in May 2015, but don’t bet on it.
So if you are Chris Paul, how do you risk letting all that go? Is it your burden to lead a Los Angeles Clippers boycott against owner Donald Sterling’s racist behavior? And shouldn’t that boycott have happened a long, long time ago anyway?.
It’s a matter of public record that Sterling has suffered through a sheaf of litigation for his alleged racism.
He has been sued twice for housing discrimination, for which he paid a total of $7.5 million in settlement fees. Several years ago, NBA Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor—known for his intelligence and sportsmanship—accused Sterling of having a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude” during Baylor’s tenure as the Clipper’s GM. Baylor’s attorneys went so far as to accuse Sterling of having “a vision of Southern-plantation like structure.”
Not surprisingly, then, the Clippers responded to Sterling’s latest bout of atavistic grotesqueness by way of symbolism. The statement: the team wore their pregame uniforms inside-out, an act that came off as a begrudged acceptance of the status quo. It said, essentially, “I’ll take your paycheck and I’ll do what I love at your company, but it won’t really be for your company.”
The Clippers continued to play Sunday afternoon for their love of basketball, competition and their fans because these precious, universal entities could arguably be considered independent of the uniquely awful statements made by an elderly man with an exceptionally awful reputation who just happens to be their boss.
Maybe. Except, on Sunday, the Clippers played with a heavy heart that weighed down their legs and arms. Center De Andre Jordan, who normally flies around the rim like a juggernaut on a pogo-stick, lumbered around the court for the better part of the afternoon. The light afoot J.J. Reddick looked uncharacteristically winded. Paul and Griffin combined for 23 field goal attempts, well below their average of 31 for the regular season. All the while the vociferous Oracle Arena fan base—this massive blanket of bright yellow t-shirts—screamed in joy as the Golden State Warriors mercilessly pummeled their hapless, deeply disaffected opponent.
Of course the Warriors weren’t part of the Clippers quandary. If the Clippers are going to come out and play, they can either be mentally prepared or get ready for a drubbing. One company’s bitterly racist owner is not another company’s problem, at least not when it’s Winning Time, which just so happens to be most of, if not all of the time. Golden State had an opportunity to tie this series up at 2-2, and they were going to capitalize on that as well as they could. The result: a 118-97 blowout on their home court.
I suspect the Clippers will try to return the favor tonight, reminded that the Warriors are the competition, not Sterling. An unfortunate reality in our culture is that the compulsive need to win (in all walks of life) is an all consuming and habitually sought after distraction from even the most notorious behavior. In this regard, it may just be force of habit that the Clippers use to reprogram and go all the way to win a Championship in spite of what is going on; to show impenetrable Unity and Excellence on the court in the face of Adversity.
Just what constitutes that adversity in the upcoming weeks—Sterling, the San Antonio Spurs, or the continued perpetuation of various forms of invidious and latent discrimination in this country—will be a blur against the spherical basketball trophy’s glow. Once that is over with in June, the lawyers—including Donald Sterling’s own legal army—will storm in from opposite directions of the conference room and compress these statements into legalese.
Whether what emerges from it will be the firing of one of professional sports’ most notorious figures is still anyone’s guess. But that determination is a long way away, as will be the (just) cries of “boycott” we’re hearing now.
Today is April 29th, 2014, and it’s time to compete; it’s time to win.
Photo: MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/AP
Read more commentary on Donald Sterling at The Good Men Project.