Terming it "unacceptable" for Donald Sterling to maintain ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers as a court case over the future of the franchise nears its conclusion, All-Star point guard and National Basketball Player's Association president Chris Paul told ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman that "he has spoken to coach Doc Rivers about the possibility of sitting out if Sterling remains in control" come the start of the 2014-15 NBA season.
"That's something me and Doc are both talking about," Paul said on Thursday after coaching his AAU program, CP3. "Something has to happen, and something needs to happen soon -- sooner rather than later." [...]
"We're all going to talk about it," Paul added. "We're all definitely going to talk about it. Doc, Blake (Griffin), DJ (DeAndre Jordan). It's unacceptable."
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told reporters at Las Vegas Summer League earlier this month that, given the nature of the legal proceedings surrounding the contested sale of the team, Sterling retaining ownership into the start of next season remains a possibility.
"No, I cannot say with certainty [Sterling won't still own the team], and I can't say with certainty because it's in the hands of the probate court right now, and Donald is in the process of suing us for lots of money, and we're defending ourselves against those lawsuits," Silver said. "… I can say with certainty we are doing everything in our power to move Donald out as an owner in the NBA.
"And as I said, if the probate ruling doesn't go in our favor, we'll recommence our procedures under termination. The only reason I say I can't say it with certainty, it's possible some court would step in and stop us."
Paul's remarks came two days after interim Clippers CEO Dick Parsons testified that Rivers "told him he will quit" his job as the Clippers head coach if Donald Sterling retains ownership. (Rivers expressed uncertainty about his future three months ago, in the throes of the Sterling saga, as well.)
"If Doc were to leave, that would be a disaster," said Parsons, who also said he feared an "exodus of key players," including Paul, according to The Associated Press. "Doc is the father figure, the one who leads. He's the coach. He's the grownup. He is able to connect with people and earn their trust. The team believes in him and loves him. If he were to leave, that is only going to accelerate the death spiral."
The prospect of a player boycott was first raised in the days after the publication of audio recordings of Sterling making racist remarks, which came in the middle of the Clippers' first-round playoff series with the Golden State Warriors.
The Clippers' players and coaches reportedly discussed boycotting Game 4 of their series, but instead elected to play — the Warriors won handily — after registering a silent protest by shedding their warm-up jackets at half-court and wearing their shooting shirts inside out to obscure the Clippers logo. Members of the Miami Heat performed the same pre-game action before their next contest in solidarity with the Clippers; then-Heat star LeBron James, a close friend of Paul's, famously said, "There's no room for Donald Sterling in the NBA."
Boycott talk continued as the days wore on, though the primary motivation for a prospective walkout — the possibility of the NBA failing to issue what the players deemed an appropriate punishment for Sterling's transgressions — fell by the wayside when Silver banned Sterling from the NBA for life on April 29, hours before Game 5 of the Clippers-Warriors series. The ban united players, coaches and league officials alike, and led union leadership to pull back on a reported plan to boycott the three playoff games set to take place that Tuesday night. (The Warriors' planned walk-off, in particular, sounds like it would have been something to behold.)
The Clippers won Game 5, dispatched the Warriors in seven games, and advanced before being knocked out by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round of the playoffs. The boycott topic persisted as the playoffs continued, with then-Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jarrett Jack proposing a league-wide player boycott until Sterling no longer owned the team, and NBPA first vice president Roger Mason Jr. telling Showtime's Jim Rome that LeBron would lead such a boycott if Sterling was still in place to begin the '14-'15 campaign. Mason backed off those comments a day later, after James, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra and several Heat players downplayed the idea of a LeBron-led walkout.
It's fair to wonder how much of this talk is just posturing. After all, as Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski wrote after Silver's ban, "There were no revelations on those racist tapes for the commissioner and Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin" — Sterling's history of words and deeds had been well established long before last summer, when Doc orchestrated his move from Boston to L.A. to coach Sterling's team and Paul put pen to paper on a five-year max deal for $107 million of Sterling's money.
Still, though, as Rivers laid out in his mid-maelstrom statement, determining the proper path through a situation like this — one where you're pulled in various directions by competing personal and professional goals, desires, responsibilities and emotions — is awfully complicated. That's perhaps especially true for someone like Paul, who stands as not only the on- and off-court leader of the Clippers, but also one of the NBA's signature stars and the head of the union representing the interests of the league's entire player population. There's a lot to process and parse there, and it's not unreasonable for Paul and his colleagues to keep their options open — and to keep the pressure associated with the threat of the most severe of those options on the NBA's Board of Governors — as the legal process wends its way toward resolution.
Closing arguments are scheduled to begin Monday in the probate court case between Donald and Shelly Sterling over whether Shelly indeed had the authority, per the terms of the Sterling Family Trust, to sell the Clippers with or without Donald's consent after neurologists had declared him "mentally incapacitated." But even if Shelly wins that case — which, predictably, has been pretty consistently bonkers — the prospect of an appeal still leaves the door open to Donald Sterling maintaining control of the team into the start of the season, according to Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann.
Donald Sterling has also pressed on with his $1 billion federal anti-trust lawsuit against the NBA for trying to take away his rights to privacy and free speech through its efforts to orchestrate a forced sale of the Clippers — efforts which, it should be noted, never came to completion, thanks to Shelly Sterling's agreement with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on a $2 billion sale of the team. The league's Board of Governors can't approve the sale while it's being contested, though, and Donald Sterling seems intent on prolonging that contest for as long as possible.
There was a brief glimmer of optimism earlier this week that things might resolve more quickly and amicably than anticipated, as Donald Sterling met with Ballmer amid reports that Sterling may need to sell the Clippers to pay off $500 million in loan debts. That quickly faded — quelle surprise! — when Sterling and his representatives filed yet another lawsuit, this time "charging his wife, the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver with defrauding him when they moved to sell the team" to Ballmer.
Should the legal battle stretch past the Aug. 15 deadline — itself a one-month extension from the original July 15 date — for the completion of the purchase agreement between Ballmer and Shelly Sterling, the NBA is reportedly prepared to return to its initial plan of ousting Donald Sterling. That would entail exercising a provision in the league constitution allowing for termination of his ownership through a vote of the other 29 league owners as to Sterling's fate, with a three-quarters vote needed to remove him from the ranks of the NBA's private club of ownership. It has long been considered all but a certainty that Silver has the votes needed to jettison Sterling.
The league has reportedly set a mid-September date for resuming that process, though — roughly six weeks prior to the start of the 2014-15 season — meaning that even if there's a near-zero chance that he'll ever have a meaningful role or voice in the franchise's functioning again, there still might not be enough time to remove Sterling before the ball goes up. If he still owns the team, even if in name only, his effective neutering at the hands of the league might not seem strong enough to the Paul-led players; if it's not, the Clippers' season might tip off a little later than anyone expected.
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