SAN FRANCISCO – Los Angeles Clippers players and coaches discussed boycotting their playoff game against the Golden State Warriors after the team's owner was alleged to have told his girlfriend not to bring blacks to games. The team ultimately decided not to boycott and will play the Warriors in Game 4 of their first-round series Sunday afternoon, but owner Donald Sterling will not attend the game.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said at a brief news conference Saturday night in Memphis, Tenn., that the league is investigating the alleged comments and hopes to have its inquiry completed within a few days. He said Sterling, who sat courtside in Game 3, agreed to not attend Sunday's game.
Despite describing the TMZ recording as "offensive and disturbing,” Silver said the league's investigation will focus on the authenticity of the recording, along with the context in which the alleged comments were made. He said the league plans to interview Sterling and possibly the woman in the recording, whom TMZ reported is Sterling's girlfriend.
"All members of the NBA family should be afforded due process to present their side of any controversy, which is why I’m not prepared to discuss any potential sanctions against Donald Sterling," Silver said. "We will, however, move extraordinarily quickly in our investigation."
The NBA's constitution and bylaws, Silver said, allow it to consider a "wide range of sanctions" for Sterling if the tape is deemed authentic.
Silver said he spoke with Clippers coach and vice president Doc Rivers and guard Chris Paul, who also is president of the National Basketball Players Association. Silver already had plans of attending Game 4 between the Warriors and Clippers, but a league spokesman said he isn’t expected to speak to the media and will arrive just before tipoff.
Rivers said a possible boycott was among many other things considered during a very vocal 45-minute meeting at the team hotel prior to Saturday's practice. Rivers was the only member of the Clippers who took questions about Sterling's alleged comments.
"We needed to talk about it because everyone else is," Rivers said of the team's meeting. "We needed to talk about it and all things came up. We heard all the stuff and boycotts and all that stuff. All those things are things you can do. We choose to play and we're going to play tomorrow.
A boycott "was brought up because I'm sure 20,000 people have suggested it. But honestly, I'm completely against that and they were, too."
The Clippers later released a statement from team president Andy Roeser saying the organization isn't sure the TMZ tape "is legitimate or has been altered." Roeser said the woman – reported to be Sterling's girlfriend – whose voice is on the tape is the defendant in a lawsuit in which the Sterling family alleges she embezzled more than $1.8 million and she has vowed to "get even."
"Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings," Roeser said in the statement. "It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them."
In the past eight years, Sterling has settled multiple racial discrimination suits filed against him, including one in 2009 in which he paid the U.S. Justice Department $2.73 million to settle allegations his companies targeted and discriminated against blacks, Hispanics and families with children in renting apartments in greater Los Angeles.
Under previous commissioner David Stern, the NBA never publicly disciplined Sterling in the previous incidents.
"I can't speak to the past as to why decisions were made," Silver said.
Rivers called the alleged comments "disturbing," and said he has not spoken to Sterling. Rivers added that while he and every player is upset about the alleged comments, the Clippers have to allow the investigation to take place and he has a "job to do for the players."
"The league is going to handle this and the players association is going to handle this as well," Rivers said. "What we need to do is stay together. I think the biggest statement we can make as men, not as black men, is to stick together."
The only Clippers players who spoke to the media after practice were Paul and Blake Griffin, but said they would only answer questions about the Warriors. Clippers center DeAndre Jordan did post a black picture on his Twitter and Instagram accounts, but didn't speak to the media.
Said Rivers: "The players are not going to deal with this issue."
Paul said the union considers Sterling's situation a "very serious issue that we will address aggressively." Sacramento mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson is being utilized by the NBPA to determine a response. Johnson said in a statement that the alleged comments are "reprehensible and unacceptable" and the NPBA will play an active role in addressing the issue.
"As players, we owe it to our teams and our fans to keep our focus on our game, the playoffs, and the drive to the Finals," Paul said in the statement.
Rivers admitted the situation was a "distraction" that could benefit the Warriors in the teams' playoff series.
"In a weird way I think Golden State is having a ball right now because we're not talking about them," Rivers said. "The fact that I spent 45 minutes in a meeting instead of watching film did not make me happy, if you know me at all. It is real life. You have to deal with it."
Rivers said he listened to the entire audio clip, but reiterated the process has to run its course.
"No one was happy about it," Rivers said. "J.J. Redick was just as pissed as Chris Paul, and that's the way it should be. Having said that, our goal is to win the NBA title. We are not going to let anything stand in the way of that. That's adversity we didn't want, but we will deal with it internally. …We are not going to share it."
In the audio recording, Sterling is alleged to tell his girlfriend she should not associate with Hall of Famer Magic Johnson because he is black. Johnson said via Twitter that he and his wife Cookie would never attend another Clippers game.
Sterling "is also upset and apologizes for sentiments attributed to him about Earvin Johnson," Roeser said. "He has long considered Magic a friend and has only the utmost respect and admiration for him – both in terms of who he is and what he has achieved. We are investigating this matter."
Silver expressed disappointment the incident has overshadowed the playoffs.
"I particularly think this situation is unfair to the Clippers players and coaches who have to deal with this distraction in the middle of their own highly competitive playoff series,” Silver said.