Chauncey Billups: 'There's no way I would've took that floor yesterday, even if all my teammates would've been wanting to play.' (Paul Sancya / Associated Press)
No one should be surprised about Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist comments that were released to the public over the weekend, as this was in line with his track record over the past decade or so.
He admonished his mistress for being publicly seen with African-Americans, prominent or anonymous, at Clippers games. This is the same man who agreed to pay the U.S. Justice Department a record $2.73 million to settle allegations that centered around Sterling refusing to rent to blacks and other minorities in Los Angeles.
TMZ revealed the vile comments, and two things came to mind:
* The responsibility isn’t on the Clippers players to boycott the playoffs, as they’re playing for themselves and each other, not an owner.
* The other, as the audio showed, Sterling was told about his mistress’ picture on Instagram with Magic Johnson and Matt Kemp by one of his buddies, meaning there’s an ugly truth nobody wants to admit.
And it’s that Sterling isn’t alone. He’s a fool, and a known bigot, but for someone to bring that information to him means his views aren’t that radical in his circle. In fact, they’re shared, and for anyone to suggest that racism is dead in this country, know that Sterling isn’t a lone wolf.
Pistons owner Tom Gores spoke out strongly Monday against Sterling’s comments.
“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.”
Pistons guard Chauncey Billups, a former Clippers player told The Detroit News that he was shocked to hear Sterling’s comments.
“It’s surprising -- more importantly for anyone like Mr. Sterling, who’s attained this wealth, and can affect so many people,” said Billups. “They’re surprised someone of his stature would have this view of minorities after all these years.”
Billups understood his former Clippers teammates taking the floor Sunday in Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, but had he been there, he wouldn’t have. He would’ve gone further than the symbolic but powerful gesture, of throwing the warmup jackets that says “Clippers” on the front at midcourt and wearing black bands on their arms.
“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.”
“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.”
Rivers, whose San Antonio home was burned to the ground in 1997 by arsonists with racial motives because he had a white wife, has to work for Sterling — at least for the time being.
For the NBA to be viewed as the most progressive league in sports, this cannot be allowed. Silver seemed nervous in addressing the media Saturday night in Memphis, fiddling around, perhaps recognizing the severity of the situation.
It’s time for Silver to undo the mistake his predecessor, David Stern, allowed to fester in his league for so long. Stern awarded the Clippers Chris Paul after the 2011 lockout when Stern, acting as de-facto owner of the ownerless New Orleans Hornets, determined the original trade to the Los Angeles Lakers wasn’t good enough.
In essence, Stern enabled a racist owner to not only exist in his league, but to thrive. I’d say Stern allowing Sterling to continue in the NBA was more damaging than the “Malice at The Palace” over a decade ago.
It doesn’t matter how the audio was obtained, because if it happened to a player he would be punished. It doesn’t matter other owners have had questionable business practices and are possibly afraid to speak out for fear of setting precedent that could hurt them at some point.
Silver and his owners — including Pistons owner Tom Gores — have to act. Get this guy out of your league. If they don’t do everything within the bylaws of the NBA’s constitution to force Sterling to sell, they should be tainted with the shame and stain of Sterling’s comments.
“Who’s coming there now? What black or Hispanic will renew their season tickets next year?” Billups asked. “It’s gonna be a very toxic situation if he’s allowed to keep this team. What free agents will choose to play there?”
If owners don’t do anything to officially disassociate themselves from this man, they’re allowing his vicious comments to have life in every locker room, in a league where around 80 percent of its players are African-American.
Michael Jordan, the lone black owner in the NBA, delivered the strongest comments to date, but it’s time for other owners who fit the racial profile of Sterling to publicly condemn him and remove him.
It’s not a stretch to draw the comparisons to slavery, at least from how Sterling views himself as the benevolent man making black men rich.
“I support them by giving them food and clothes and cars,” Sterling says in the recording. “Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them?”
Comments like that indicate a lack of respect that shouldn’t be tolerated and shouldn’t have gone on this long. No matter what has gone on before concerning Sterling’s past misdeeds, Silver must act swiftly.
“I don’t know the bylaws of what they can or cannot do,” Billups said. “They have to come down with a heavy hand on this guy and make it so he can no longer own the team. That’s what they have to do.”
This is a watershed moment for the NBA, its players and more importantly, Silver and the owners, who’ve seen and known how Sterling has operated for years.
It’s time for him to go.