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Before the Los Angeles Clippers took to the court on Tuesday night, coach Doc Rivers responded to NBA commissioner Adam Silver‘s ruling that owner Donald Sterling be banned for life and pay a $2.5 million fine.
“They were happy that there was a resolution and it was over,” he said of his team, in a press conference at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, before Game 5 of the first-round of the NBA playoffs. “I was just really proud of them — of the players, the NBA and the owners. We are all in a better place.”
Rivers said that he does not believe that Sterling — who has come under fire since audio surfaced Friday night of him telling girlfriend V. Stiviano not to publicly associate with black people, including Magic Johnson, and not to bring them to Clippers games — will be the owner moving forward.
“A lifetime ban is a lifetime ban. I do think that is the right decision. I am coaching the team, and I don’t know who to call,” he told reporters.
The decision from Silver, who only took over from David Stern as the NBA commissioner on February 1, was made after four intensely stressful days for the Clippers, which included a loss against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday after they had worn their warm-up jerseys inside out in a protest against racism.
“You learn over and over that when something like this happens, it always falls on the person who has been offended to respond,” said Rivers. “I felt the pressure on my players. Everyone was waiting on them to give a response. They didn’t do anything . So Adam [Silver] responded. That was the sigh of relief,” he revealed.
“Is it over? No it’s not over,” he added. “We do have a game, but I think this has been more important,” he revealed, despite being tied 2-2 in the series with the Warriors.
When asked if he had first-hand experience of similar behavior from Sterling in the past, Rivers replied: “We have heard ‘stuff.’ It hadn’t happened to us and we hadn’t seen it. … Then this happened and there was proof,” said the African-American coach, who came to the Clippers from the Boston Celtics in June 2013.
“I hadn’t thought about leaving or staying, this should not be about me. I want to coach; I adore these guys. I have given it zero thought as far as that goes. Obviously, Adam’s decision makes mine easier.
“We will let this whole thing run its course, then we will all have clarity. I want the players to be comfortable; that is the most important thing to me. They were waiting for a decision — that was one reason why I didn’t have a practice yesterday. I just let them go home and spend time with their families.”
Back on their home court after losing in Oakland, Rivers said: “This will be a safe haven for us tonight. Our crowd will be amazing.”
The coach informed the team of the landmark ruling, which has announced in a press conference at 11 a.m. Tuesday, while they were in a film session, and they responded with “complete silence.”
“I let them know there was some closure but still work to do. This is not a pity party for us,” pledged Rivers, saying it was time to go out and play. “I am going to do my job, whatever is right for my team.”
When asked if he thought the team should change its name, he said he had no idea. “If there is a new owner, all of those questions will be answered by someone smarter than me,” he said, and added that the players had not discussed boycotting the game, and he was “glad they didn’t have to make that decision.”
Earlier in the day, Silver had said he will try to ensure that the Clippers are sold.
“I will urge the board of governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team and will do everything in my power to ensure that that happens,” he said at a press conference in New York. “This has been a painful moment for all members of the NBA family.”
Sterling’s views “simply have no place in the NBA,” Silver added.
L.A. Lakers president Jeanie Buss was among those who praised the commissioner for his actions. “Yesterday, I said I had full confidence in Adam Silver and how he and the NBA would handle this situation,” she said in an e-mail statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “In today’s announcement, Adam was decisive, firm and compelling and showed great leadership in his condemnation of the horrible and offensive comments that have led to this action.”
Later that night, Clippers fans gave the players a standing ovation when their team took to the court, with some of them holding up signs of support, such as “Hate Will Never Win,” or demands for the team to be sold.
A new introduction displayed the words “We Are One” above the court. One fan in the crowd wore a shirt stating, “Sterling out, Equality in.”
Outside the Staples Center there was a strong police presence before the 7.30 p.m. PST tip off after a protest had been planned before Silver made his ruling.
The Clippers went on to beat the Warriors 113-103 and will now return to Oakland for Game 6 on Thursday.
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