In a first round series between the Golden State Warriors and L.A. Clippers that was supposed to be exciting for the drama between the teams on the court, the inescapably dominant national storyline has become the misdeeds of the franchise's racist owner.
And it has come to a point where it's difficult to avoid thinking that The Donald Sterling Effect - and, more specifically, how the Clippers' players deal with it - casting its shadow over Game 5 after almost undeniably having some impact on Game 4.
There were already murmurs of coach Doc Rivers not being willing to coach for Sterling's franchise any longer, possible protests outside of Staples, and potential buyers for the team - including Magic Johnson - should the league find a way to force Sterling to sell. Today, USA Today is reporting that (at least) seven sponsors have already pulled out of their deals with the Clippers. And Warriors coach Mark Jackson has now formally joined those who are calling for a boycott of Game 5 at Staples Center as an economic protest of Sterling.
Mark Jackson says fans -- Clippers and Warriors, alike -- should boycott tomorrow's Game 5 in LA, believing that would be loudest statement.— Rusty Simmons (@Rusty_SFChron) April 28, 2014
MJax said this isn't about taking away LAC homecourt advantage to help GSW. He said its about not letting Sterling make a profit— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) April 28, 2014
Not that Jackson's idea will come to fruition, but he's not the first to make this suggestion and it wouldn't be all that surprising to see local organizations make a similar push to limit actual attendance.
Of course, it's not entirely clear how much profit the franchise itself makes off of individual games anyway: television and luxury suite revenues would are generally the greatest source of revenue for franchises and, depending on their lease agreement, they likely get under 50% of game day revenue from concessions and merchandise sales. Symbolically, it would be another statement to the league and Sterling that people have (finally) decided that it will no longer support Sterling.
Yet the reality is that more than symbolic statements, the league simply needs to take action and is at least five years past due in doing so- this man is not going to suddenly go away because people who have already paid for tickets (especially the luxury suite variety) chose not to show up.
This cascade of denouncements and clarion calls have come before the league has even held its press conference about the findings of its investigation, which is scheduled for 11 a.m. PST tomorrow - whether the league announces their intention to force Sterling out somehow, suspend him, or do absolutely nothing, the Clippers are once again likely to be overshadowed by their racist owner. The problem, of course, in predicting what the league will do is that Sterling's racist actions and words - past and present (and inevitably forthcoming) - are not isolated incidents of vileness in the NBA but almost representative of a pattern of letting money overshadow morality.
As described in an excellent article by Dave D'Alessandro of the Star-Ledger yesterday, the NBA has more than its fair share of individuals who have actively sought to ruin human lives through their business and political actions. Lee Jenkins of SI.com rightly reported that former commissioner David Stern essentially validated Sterling for his years of bad deeds by enabling the Chris Paul trade to L.A. So a large part of the burden to fix this mess falls squarely on the league because of its willingness to tolerate these type of people previously and, by extension, a group of owners who have harbored a small group of bad apples for some time.
All of that magnifies the general silence of the league's owners in light of this most recent controversy while everyone from Lil Wayne to Michael Jordan to President Barack Obama has offered opinions on Sterling's latest episode. About a handful of ownership-level individuals have spoken out, including - with a bit less fanfare - Warriors owner Joe Lacob in an interview with Tim Kawakami.
It’s just something that I think no matter who you are, racism doesn’t belong period, in any way, doesn’t matter, black, white, whatever color. Inappropriate.
I wish we didn’t have to do this today. I wish our game didn’t have to be the centerpiece of all this today. I feel bad for our fans and players and everybody who will have to deal with this.
Enough people are paying attention to Sterling this time that anything less than an indefinite suspension will be completely unacceptable and that's only because there might be legal ramifications to imposing other penalties.
In short, we can almost just toss aside any talk about X's and O's for this game - yes, the Warriors have to come prepared, but the outcome will almost certainly come down to how the Clippers play through all these distractions. The Clippers didn't seem able to cast this aside in Game 4 and after reportedly not practicing today before what will be an extremely high profile Game 5 it doesn't figure to get easier for them. In some ways it's certainly the proverbial chickens coming home to roost - after years of losing while the NBA turned a blind eye to his nonsense, now his racist ways are undermining the best chance his franchise has at a title - but you have to feel a little for the players who looked to be on their way to winning the series after Game 3 and are now at the center of a national controversy.
Yet while that might be a shame in terms of the integrity of the game on the court, it had to happen some time and it's really hard to feel bad about the consequences of The Sterling Effect on the franchise.