In the summer of 1968, athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on a medal stand with their black-gloved fists held firmly in the air as the American flag raised and “The Star-Spangled Bannner” played in the background. As the world watched the Olympics in Mexico City, Smith and Carlos sent an explosive message that shed light on racial injustice in America.
The moment forced those who held power in the U.S. to take a deeper look at themselves and racial disparities.
One year earlier, Muhammad Ali was willing to lose his title belts and face a ban from boxing because he didn’t believe in being involved with the Vietnam War.
Nearly 45 years later, the L.A. Clippers team had a chance to make a similar statement in the wake of Donald Sterling’s latest racist maneuver. On the morning when Sterling’s disgusting comments were released, several Clippers players contemplated boycotting game 4 of their playoff series against the Golden State Warriors. However, after a team meeting, Doc Rivers and the players decided to play the game, which will be held in Oakland, Calif.
Rivers and several other sports commentators suggested that playing the game would be a choice to continue on the path for an NBA championship.
Indeed, the Clippers have worked hard all year to get to their position. However, they made the wrong decision by agreeing to play the game on Sunday.
Sterling’s infamy didn’t start with a voice recorded by a woman he dated. For nearly 30 years, he has shown racist attitudes. He discriminated against minority tenants; he was quoted as saying blacks “smell, they’re not clean” and “Mexicans sit around and smoke and drink all day”; and he was accused of racism by his former GM, Elgin Baylor.
For years, NBA commissioner David Stern and other team owners ignored Sterling’s racist attitudes and allowed him to exist in a league that should’ve gotten rid of him years ago. But he has become a problem so big that it takes a drastic reaction to ensure that he, and others like him, are dealt with properly.
A financial fine doesn’t hurt Sterling because he’s a billionaire. If he’s suspended from games, it doesn’t matter because he can find leisure on the golf course until his suspension is complete. It’s nearly impossible for the NBA to force him to sell the team without going through a strenuous lawsuit.
However, the players and the coach, hold the power. If Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin made the conscious decision to sit out game 4 of the playoffs, it would’ve made a bigger statement than any fine or suspension. Without the players, the NBA doesn’t have a product.
A one-game boycott would’ve forced the NBA to act swiftly instead of the disappointing “due process” that new NBA commissioner Adam Silver suggested.
Rivers, Paul and the other Clippers have decided to play to complete their mission of winning a championship. But if they happen to win, Sterling, a known racist, will be the biggest winner of them all.