Are the Los Angeles Clippers distracted by the firestorm of controversy surrounding the comments of the team's owner, Donald Sterling? Well, the short answer is yes. Watching Sunday's Game 4 of their playoff series against the Golden State Warriors would tell you as much.
Still, interpreting their performance on the court is more than a bit subjective. So how about this: the Clippers are not practicing today and are not making anyone available to the press in person. They have scheduled a phone conference with coach Doc Rivers for the late morning.
They just got their asses handed to them in Game 4 in Oakland. They have one day off before Game 5. In playoff series tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 almost always wins the series -- there is no bigger playoff game short of actual elimination games. The day off before a Game 5 would seem like a logical day to practice, know what I'm saying? I mean, sure, Doc tends to give his players more days off than most other coaches, but let's face it, this would not have been one of them under normal circumstances.
So yeah, it's a distraction. Distractions don't get much more distracting in fact.
I myself am somewhat amazed at how this controversy has resonated with the public. Not that it shouldn't be a huge issue -- it absolutely should. But the simple fact is that we didn't find out anything about Donald Sterling from the tapes released by TMZ on Friday night that we did not already know. Perhaps my brother put it best in a recent email:
There was a massive under reaction to Sterling before yesterday, and a massive over reaction after yesterday. So today Magic takes offense at this guy, and yesterday he was friends with Sterling and enjoyed going to the games with his gold digging 20-year-old girlfriend named "V"? So today critics want the players and fans to boycott, and yesterday they were somehow not all that troubled?
I thought we already knew he was a racist. And we certainly knew he was a philandering fornicator.
Yes, my brother really does use the word fornicator in sentences. It's charming in its way.
But he's correct. Where was all of this outrage during the Department of Housing settlement? Or during the myriad other lawsuits involving both discrimination and serial infidelity? As outrageous as the things he said to his girlfriend were, surely that entire conversation pales in comparison to telling your property managers not to rent to black people. After all, the first is a private conversation with a supposed confidante who then egregiously violated his right to privacy by releasing the conversation to the media. The second is a business practice. There's no comparison.
So why the outrage this time?
Perhaps it is because we are hearing his voice. It's more real to everyone, more visceral, more sensory. The public is both lazy and unimaginative as a whole. Reading excerpts from court documents is more work, while the specific comments might seem less egregious without more context. Hearing him say the things he said makes it that much more real.
Or perhaps it is because the Clippers themselves are more relevant. The Justice Department settlement was reached in 2009; the Clippers lost 60 games and the Lakers won yet another title. This time? The Clippers are one of the best teams in the NBA, the Lakers had their worst season since moving to Los Angeles, and Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are two of the most visible stars on the planet. Basically, you might be able to get away with being a racist, misogynistic, narcissistic idiot if you own a team that no one cares about -- but don't you dare do it when people are paying attention.
Please don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying that the scrutiny is misplaced or unfair at this time. I'm saying that it's very, very late. But better late than never.
Is there a way out? Of course there is. Sell the team. The Maloofs were almost as hated in Sacramento as Sterling is in LA (for different reasons of course); which was all the more reason for rejoicing when the team was finally sold (the fact that the team also remained in the city against all odds certainly multiplied the joy). It's difficult to know whether DTS is self-aware enough to realize that selling is by far his best recourse. He's a stubborn son of a bitch and beyond delusional about how he is perceived. The various awards and honors he bestows upon himself tell us a lot about how he might handle this. Selling the team as quickly and quietly as possible is clearly his best play -- which probably means that he'll very visibly hold on and fight any and all pressure to do so, all the while imagining that he's heroic and beloved for fighting the good fight. He'll create a "Sports Owner of the Year" award and present it to himself.
There will be no shortage of suitors to purchase the team which would almost certainly fetch a record price for an NBA franchise. Magic Johnson's group, which saved the Dodgers from the McCourt's, is supposedly interested. If there are any buyers for the Bucks, there are a thousand buyers for the Clippers. Johnson's group would of course be ideal -- an LA NBA icon, and the person inadvertently at the center of this maelstrom, purchasing the team would be a dream scenario for both the league and the city.
Adam Silver has promised some resolution before tomorrow night's game and a press conference has been scheduled. Carmax and State Farm are reconsidering advertising deals with the team. It's not clear how heavy handed the league can be here. There's simply no precedent. But Sterling has a perfect exit strategy, whether he realizes it or not.