LOS ANGELES – While Clippers fans rejoiced in their team's first victory sans a banned Donald Sterling, perhaps the biggest Clippers fan of them all departed Staples Center in silence, dressed in black and flanked by several bodyguards.
"It's a tough one for Shelly [Sterling], really," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said following a 113-103 Game 5 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. "She didn't do anything wrong either. You have compassion for her. I kept hearing about the girlfriend. I kept thinking, 'Shelly is the wife.' You know what I mean? I talked to her [Tuesday] and she has been through as much as anyone as well."
The NBA banned Donald Sterling from the league on Tuesday while also fining him $2.5 million and stating plans to force him to sell the Clippers. The suspension came in aftermath of an audiotape surfacing in which Sterling was heard telling a former girlfriend that she should not have pictures with black people shown publicly nor should she take them to Clippers games.
While the NBA is attempting to push Sterling out as owner, it's uncertain if his wife or any other family member could take over the franchise. National Basketball Players Association vice-president Roger Mason Jr., however, told Yahoo Sports that the players want completely new ownership and not a family member connected to Sterling. A source said that Shelly Sterling would like for her son-in-law, Eric Miller, the Clippers' director of basketball administration, to take over the franchise.
"We're looking for a change in ownership. A complete change," Mason said.
Rivers didn't think the Sterlings could keep the Clippers in the family in the midst of the ban.
"It doesn't sound like it, to be honest," said Rivers, about the possibility of Shelly Sterling owning the Clippers. "And I think she knows that. But she still wanted to be [at Game 5]. I don't know if it's right or wrong, but to me it was right."
Clippers guard Chris Paul, who is president of the NBPA, said: "Luckily that's not up to us."
The day after the Donald Sterling news broke on TMZ Sports, Shelly Sterling attended Game 4 of the Clippers' first-round series against the Warriors in Oakland. The weary Clippers lost 118-97. She was decked out in all black and sat courtside across from the Clippers' bench. She watched Game 5 hidden in a suite instead of her usual courtside seat at Staples Center.
"For us, it's tough," Paul said. "But I can't imagine how tough it is for that family. So we will continue let them get through that."
Rivers said he convinced Shelly Sterling to attend Game 5 and passed on a message from her to the players.
"She asked if she could come, which I thought was a very nice gesture," Rivers said. "And she just wanted the players to know, she told me to tell them that she loved them. I thought, 'Why not?'"