LOS ANGELES – NBA commissioner Adam Silver's lifetime ban of Donald Sterling and the league's push to force the Los Angeles Clippers owner to sell the franchise helped avoid a player boycott of Tuesday's three playoff games.
National Basketball Players Association vice president Roger Mason Jr. said players were prepared to boycott the three games on Tuesday if they weren't satisfied with the sanctions levied against Sterling.
"It wasn't just about the Clippers," Mason said after a union news conference in front of Los Angeles City Hall. "All teams would have been prepared if that message wasn't what we wanted to do as players. …Today when I landed, I talked to [Golden State Warriors center] Jermaine O'Neal and he pretty much said their team would be on board. I was reaching out to the Clippers. I felt really strongly about this.
"All of our players felt that boycotting the game tonight would have been a step for us as players."
Mason was speaking to the media in place of Clippers guard Chris Paul, the NBPA president who was preparing for Game 5 against the Warriors. Mason said he is certain the "majority" of Clippers players won't want to continue playing for the team if Sterling remains owner.
All 30 NBA teams, including the Clippers, put out statements supporting Silver's ruling. Mason is confident NBA owners will vote unanimously to oust Sterling, but isn't certain when the vote will happen. The union made clear it wants the vote taken immediately.
"I haven't heard one owner not support Sterling selling his team in the media," Mason said. "I can't see it. I know a lot of owners personally from spending time during the negotiations [of the collective bargaining agreement]. I would be shocked if wasn't unanimous."
Mason told Yahoo Sports the union will not be comfortable with Sterling's wife Rochelle, or any other Sterling family member taking ownership of the team.
Mason said he was happy Silver put the "hammer down."
"Adam Silver was very clear that his recommendation was to sell, and we have to take him for his word," Mason said. "Our point is we don't want this to lag. As soon as a vote can happen, we want this to happen."
The Clippers players gave Sterling a silent message during their Game 4 loss at Golden State on Sunday by turning their shooting shirts inside-out and tossing aside their warm-up jackets that had "Clippers" on the front. The Miami Heat also wore their shooting shirts inside-out prior to Monday's win over Charlotte in solidarity with the Clippers players.
TMZ published the audio recording of Sterling's racial comments early Saturday morning, but the players passed on boycotting that evening's games, or games on Sunday or Monday.
"We needed to give due process a chance," Mason said. "We didn't want to jump the gun. We wanted to be professional. We wanted to let Adam Silver do his investigation, which he did. Any action for us was going to happen after this decision."
In addition to Mason, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti and Sacramento mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson, who is assisting the players union, Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash, New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler and former players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, A.C. Green and Norm Nixon were among those who attended the news conference.
"This is also a statement of where we are as a country," Johnson said. "It doesn't matter if you're a professional basketball player worth millions of dollars or a man or woman who works hard for their family. There will be zero tolerance for institutional racism no matter how rich or powerful."
Nash said: "After initial outrage, disappointment and sadness, I think today is a great, proud moment for our players association, current and former players, the NBA and [myself] as a father of three."
Garcetti said the ruling transcended more than just the Clippers.
"I want to make clear that what you heard today wasn't just about basketball," Garcetti said. "This is about Los Angeles. The Clippers have the ability to use this city's name. A name that stands for tolerance, openness, diversity, stands for civil rights, stands for breakthroughs and most of all stands for basketball excellence. We may be a two-team town, but today we are behind one team."
Mason cautioned that the players are not content. The union hopes the NBA can add stricter guidelines to more thoroughly investigate the background of new owners. The NBPA still has not replaced former executive director Billy Hunter.
"The NBA did the best that they could today. They put the hammer down," Mason said. "But this issue isn't over. As the players association, our responsibility is to protect the players. We're going to take action. We're going to take this even further. We're not done with this.
"We're going to see what rights us players have. This is just the beginning for us as a union."