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No Matter What NBA Does, Doc Rivers Has Final Say on Donald Sterling's Fate

Doc Rivers

Donald Sterling's excessive green always seemed to cover up his obsession with black and white.

Doc Rivers may have finally realized that on Monday.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said as much with his Time Magazine opinion piece about faux and manufactured moral outrage despite a long record of real-life racially divisive, if not blantantly discrimatory, acts by Sterling.

Among the sins outlined in Kareem's piece - and elsewhere:

2006: U.S. Dept. of Justice sued Sterling for housing discrimination. Allegedly, he said, 'Black tenants smell and attract vermin.'
2009: He reportedly paid [$2.765] million in a Justice Dept. suit alleging he discriminated against blacks, Hispanics, and families with children in his rentals. [He also had to pay an additional nearly $5 million in attorneys fees and costs due to his counsel's 'sometimes outrageous conduct.']
2009: Clippers executive [and one of the greatest NBA players in history] sued for employment discrimination based on age and race.

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That executive was Elgin Baylor. The alleged misdeeds by Sterling detailed in Baylor's lawsuit were as despicable and sinister [if that's possible] than what Sterling said on those tapes, which may or may not have been altered. The ugliest parts of the suit were tossed out. Baylor ultimately lost his suit in court,

Kareem's point was this:

What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn't just his racism. I'm bothered that everyone acts as if it's a huge surprise. Now there's all this dramatic and very public rending of clothing about whether they should keep their expensive Clippers season tickets. Really? All this other stuff I listed above has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That's the smoking gun?
He was discriminating against black and Hispanic families for years, preventing them from getting housing. It was public record. We did nothing. Suddenly he says he doesn't want his girlfriend posing with Magic Johnson on Instagram and we bring out the torches and rope. Shouldn't we have all called for his resignation back then?

Kareem illustrates perfectly the problem here. He stopped just short of full culpability. Donald Sterling, racist and all-around cretin, was allowed to continue in his role as both an NBA owner and earn acclaim throughout much of the black community in Los Angeles because of his wealth and power.

Kareem bricked his major point. Sterling's views don't apply to his staff, the Clippers players and coaches, or his fellow NBA owners. Therefore, it is equally illogical and far more caustic to make the assumption that they do apply to the rest of us.

Sterling paid his players and girlfriends well, if not wisely. Some on the Clippers were drafted and had no choice where they began their careers [see Blake Griffin.] Others ended up in Los Angeles via trade [see Chris Paul]. Paul chose to extend his contract once he was traded. Others chose the Clippers via free-agency [see Jamal Crawford]. The players here are the least culpable when it comes to blame for enabling Sterling.

The players have an natural and fundamental adversarial role against Sterling. They are labor and he is management/ownership. They may play for the Clippers, but in a business sense, they are more members of the players' association than they are members of any one team. The applies to every player in the NBA, NHL, NFL or MLB. This is not a judgment but simple fact. If you doubt this, just wait until MLB's collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2016 season.

Rivers, however, is management. He is the team, as both coach and director of player personnel. Doc left the Boston Celtics, unquestionably the pioneering franchise in NBA history when it came to race and advancement, to land on Sterling's metaphorical plantation of multimillionaires.

Sterling made Rivers an offer he nearly refused. When Rivers left Boston last June, and was still denying claims that he "bailed" on the team, he told Dan Patrick that he left Boston because "the [Celtics] wanted to unload contracts for draft picks. I happened to be one of those contracts. [An owner] said this is a 'win-win.' Clearly I had a selfish motive. I had a chance to not rebuild and go to a team that is in a different phase of their franchise. Everybody benefits. This is done together. This isn't me walking into the Celtics and saying 'I quit.'"

Why the Clippers? Well, there was that three-year, $21 million contract. That was the same amount of money he left on the table in Boston when he walked away from Boston.

Doc could have had any available coaching job in the NBA, and even a few that weren't. The Clippers weren't his only option. They were, in his mind, his best option, the ugly past history of their owner not withstanding.

Sorry, Kareem.

When he was introduced as Clippers coach, Doc spoke of the talent on his new team.

"I clearly think this is an extremely talented basketball team. There were times last year they were the best team. I like the talent we have here," he said.

A deal with L.A.'s Devil sponsored by vanity, pride and greed [for power as much as money]. As the Jesuits at Marquette would say: "Oh, the humanity."

If Doc wasn't aware of the dysfunction in Clipperland when he arrived as a coach [he was acquired by the team via trade as player in 1991 and played there less than a year], it only took him about a week to taste first-hand how screwed up things were in Sterling's World. Two days after Sterling gave his blessing to Clippers moving Eric Bledsoe and acquiring J.J. Redick in a three-team deal, Sterling changed his mind without warning or reason.

As Yahoo! Sports wrote at the time:

With Sterling, rational thought and debate aren't always part of the discussion. Rivers contract gave him ultimate management authority on deals, and several sources dealing with the Clippers say that Rivers was beyond embarrassed and humiliated. He feared the unraveling of the deal would cost him his credibility and paralyze him in future trade and negotiation talks, sources said. From the outside, there were those telling Rivers to unite with his superstar, Paul, and let Sterling understand they both could still walk out on him. Paul couldn't sign his five-year, $107 million contract until July 11, but sources insist that Rivers never brought Paul into the quagmire. Rivers' job was to convince the owner - for a second time, in this instance - and there were those who believed a flat refusal on Sterling's behalf could've resulted with Rivers' resignation.

Rivers would get his way and the deal was saved.

If only, Doc. If only.

Tankapalooza never looked so good.

Doc wasn't the only one fooled, or blinded, by Sterling's money, power and influence. The biggest dupes in this whole mess have to be the folks in charge of the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP. The group was set to give Sterling his second Lifetime Achievement Award next month, after giving him one in 2009.

As we correctly predicted on Sunday:

Sterling has donated to the group for years. But the amount Sterling he's given to the L.A. NAACP branch was "an insignificant amount of money, and we're going to return it," said branch leader Leon Jenkins at a Monday press conference. Jenkins also preached eventual forgiveness Monday, which is a notable goal once Sterling is removed from his role with the team.

Sterling's previous award from the NAACP came before he agreed to pay that $2.765 million settlement mentioned above.

Why did they plan to honor Sterling a second time, despite the deeds outlined by Kareem and so many others? It was done for "a body of work. Mr. Sterling's organization has on a consistent basis brought in the minority community. He has also over the years contributed to a number of minority charities. Compared to other L.A. franchises, his organization gave more money than the others."

[See "Deal With Devil - Greed."]

And yet, the amount was insignificant.

Does that mean it's more or less than $21 million?

California's NAACP president Alice Huffman, to her credit, seems to be in agreement with most of us thinking: "WTF Could This Happen?"

"I thought to myself, 'A second lifetime award? That's kind of unusual. He hasn't died and come back to life. He already has one lifetime award. Why the second one?' And then this story broke," she told ESPN. "As I recall, the [L.A.] branch took a little heat for that award in 2009. The branch president pointed out that the litigation was going on and was not conclusive, and therefore he did not want to prejudge."

Oops. And you thought only David Ortiz was the only person with a Second Lifetime Achievement Award.

Monday, Rivers would not definitively say whether or not he would return next season if Sterling was still running the team.

"I don't want to answer that question," Rivers said. "I don't know. This just happened."

Translated: "I am out of here." [Update - that assertion was confirmed in a Yahoo! Sports story out Tuesday morning.]

There's no doubt Rivers is pissed. He's so mad at Sterling he's refused to speak to him. Only Doc knows if he's mad at himself, too. Teams always do their due diligence before signing players. It's impossible to believe that Doc didn't do the same when it came to Clippers and Sterling.

How could he not know the worst about Sterling through his network of fellow coaches, former broadcasters and players?

Sterling remains the culprit. There is no doubt of that. But Rivers still did more to legitimize Sterling and the Clippers organization than anyone else since Larry Brown coached the team in 1992.

Paul all but guaranteed ownership that he would sign his five-year extension if the team hired Rivers. When Rivers chose to go to the Clippers, he sent a signal to the rest of the NBA that the team and its owner were "A-OK," despite what we may have read about Sterling's racist past.

How many NBA coaches carry more credibility with their players than Rivers on the issue of race relations and racism? Rivers' house outside San Antonio was burned down in 1997. There was no conclusive proof that the arsonists torched Rivers' house for racial reasons. But, as Rivers said at the time: "Police have hesitated to say if the burning was racially motivated. In such cases, they say, the arsonist usually leaves a racist message. But they did it to my house. I'm black. You always have to think that played a part of it."

With all that as a background, how many of us were surprised that he ended up in Los Angeles with the Clippers instead of the Lakers?

Maybe Doc thought he could be insulated from Sterling's character flaws? Maybe Doc figured whatever Sterling said or did could not affect him? Maybe Doc thought he was just a coach/director of player personnel and would not provide a tacit stamp of approval to a man who thinks Jim Crow never left? Perhaps Doc thought he could turn Sterling around and show him that his views and obsession with race were wasted and hateful? Bob Kraft and Bill Belichick had the same honorable intentions when it came to Aaron Hernandez.

There's nothing Rivers did in leaving the Celtics that would warrant anyone with any humanity, even the greenest of Green Teamers, to wish this hell upon him.

Calls for fan or player boycotts in the middle of a playoff series smack of near-sighted foolishness. Walking away from the court now would imply an acceptance of responsibility for and control over Sterling's actions on the players' parts. Only Sterling is responsible for what he did. The Clippers and their coach have to play this one to completion.

The NBA will announce Sterling's fate at 2 p.m. Tuesday. A suspension, however, won't remove him from the Clippers' masthead or strip him of ownership. His separation from the Clippers and NBA could be a prolonged and legally protracted affair, especially given his litigious past.

Until Sterling relinquishes his ownership, there is less-than-zero chance any player will sign with the team via free agency. Just imagine that Twitter wrath. Whomever is drafted by the Clippers could probably land an endorsement deal from one of the many companies that boycotted the Clippers this week to cover him until the Clippers' NBA rights would expire. The players under contract will have to make up their minds as to whether or not those gigantic paychecks are worth their moral cost, now that there's no doubt about the man who signs them. Not a palatable situation for anyone, especially if you were drafted by, or traded to the team, and had no say in your NBA fate. But life often presents poor and difficult choices.

The decision for Rivers will be easy. He enjoys financial security thanks to his years as a successful player, broadcaster and coach.

He should and will walk away from the Clippers with the same speed, determination and certainly with which he arrived. Doc helped to legitimize Sterling and he can further delegitimize‎ him, as well.

And not come back until Sterling is purged from the team.

It might be enough to inspire Paul and others to follow, thus bringing down The Sterling Plantation quicker than Adam Silver and friends ever could.

The OBF Blog is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Got a news tip, want to let him know directly what you think, have a complaint or compliment about his "aggressively relevant" content or hate people who speak about themselves in the third person, hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or hit him on at his
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