Shortly after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued an unprecedented lifetime ban for Clippers owner Donald Sterling on Tuesday, the Clippers delivered a three-word response on their website: "We are one."
The same could be said for the NBA and the National Basketball Players Assn., which formed an unlikely alliance in wresting day-to-day control of the franchise from an 80-year-old owner who, according to Silver, admitted making comments about blacks.
Silver's sweeping sanctions against Sterling, which included a $2.5-million fine and potential forced sale of the Clippers, pending a vote by his counterparts throughout the league, represented a coordinated effort between sides that have long battled over issues large (the division of basketball-related income in collective bargaining agreements) and relatively small (a dress code imposed upon the players under previous Commissioner David Stern).
Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who is president of the players' union, said Silver and the league office had "given us a lot of input" into the fate of Sterling and the union and the league remained in constant communication from the time Sterling's comments became public late Friday until his punishment was announced Tuesday morning.
Those acts of inclusion could help unify the league and players' union, several players said, signaling a departure from the often contentious relationship the sides have long shared.
"I think we have an opportunity to be partners in everything we do moving forward," Paul said late Tuesday night after the Clippers' 113-103 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series.
Paul was put in the uneasy spot of trying to lead the union while also being the Clippers' top playmaker, prompting him to ask Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson for assistance. Johnson, who was already helping the union in its search for a new permanent executive director, agreed to represent the union in the Sterling controversy so that Paul could focus on basketball.
In his first meeting with Silver, Johnson outlined five objectives the players' union wanted the league to fulfill: keeping Sterling away from playoff games; providing a full accounting of prior accusations of racism against the owner and the league's reasoning for its inaction; explaining the range of available sanctions; making the players union "full partners" in the process; and completing the process swiftly and decisively.
It appears Silver went five for five, though some might argue the NBA can never satisfactorily explain why Sterling has been allowed to preside over the Clippers for 33 years given his history of indiscretions. Players, owners and fans almost universally praised the commissioner for his speedy measures against Sterling, which averted a planned boycott by Warriors players in Game 5.
"Something like this, it brings everybody together. It wasn't butting heads, it wasn't like the lockout or whatever," Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said. "It was like everybody pulling for the same thing. You see when everybody pulls in the same direction, it's powerful."
It was less than three years ago that Stern made his threat of a "nuclear winter" during the 149-day lockout in 2011 as players and owners continually ripped one another over the possible cancellation of a season.
Now mutual consent of those same parties to oust Sterling has probably saved the playoffs. Not that everyone thinks the accord will necessarily generate long-term implications.
While praising Silver, Clippers guard J.J. Redick said he wasn't sure there would be a carry-over effect when the league and the players' union meet to discuss their next collective bargaining agreement.
"I do think if you are not racist and you're not an ignorant person, it's easy to get behind anti-racism," Redick said. "So for the two sides to get behind that to me is a no-brainer. I don't know what that is going to look like in three years when we're negotiating our next CBA if we decide to opt out or if they decide to opt out. Those negotiations are generally pretty contentious, so I have no idea, but I think Adam and the league did a great job."
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