We are about 13 hours away from the strangest and most anticipated NBA game of the season, the Clippers' first game at the Staples Center since the world got a first-hand listen to Donald Sterling's repugnance. There will be gestures, and solidarity, and a lot of really serious talk about sport's role in society, but some are calling for the ultimate statement: a boycott by either the Clippers or their fans.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson spoke strongly yesterday, declaring that his own reaction as a fan would be to stay home.
"I believe if it was me, I wouldn't come to the game. I believe the fans, the loudest statement that they could make as far as fans, would be to not show up to the game.
"I can only tell you what I would do. And as an African-American man that's a fan of the game of basketball, and knows its history, and knows what's right and what's wrong, I would not come to the game, whether I was a Clipper fan or a Warrior fan."
Jackson was joined in his support of a fan boycott by Magic Johnson, who's already declared he won't be going to any more Clippers games. But there's another, separate call to action out there, the belief among some that the only appropriate statement is for Clippers players themselves to refuse to play.
"Unless NBA commissioner Adam Silver has already acted immediately and decisively to exorcise Donald Sterling from this league, a few hours before game time, led by Blake Griffin and Chris Paul but with every player on the roster involved, the Clippers must notify the commissioner that they will not take the court. They must threaten to walk out."
It is painfully easy for one person to tell another what they should do, especially when it's that second person's paycheck at stake (or, in the case of fans, their already-purchased ticket). A boycott—briefly considered and quickly rejected by the Clippers in a team meeting on Saturday—is designed to bring attention to an issue and to hit the offender financially. This story's certainly not lacking for attention, and when it comes to money, it's a slippery slope.
If Olbermann is so desirous of hitting Sterling's wallet, shouldn't he refuse to do his own show? After all, ESPN has a big fat TV deal with the NBA, so some of his own show's ad money is ending up in Sterling's pocket. And if you really believe fans should stay away from the Staples Center to hurt the Clips' revenues, you really ought to avoid any NBA game or broadcast or merchandise—the league's revenue sharing means part of a dollar spent in Miami ends up in L.A.
As for a player boycott, I liked what Tom Ziller had to say the other day. "It should never be up to victims of behavior to fix the problem. The enablers need to be the ones to take action." In this case, that's the owners. Adam Silver is expected to announce league action against Sterling in a press conference at 2 EDT—that's the only action that matters, from practical and financial standpoints.
The Clippers aren't just victims of the controversy. They've learned, from the release of the Sterling tape, exactly how they're viewed by the guy who signs their checks: as chattel. "I support them," Sterling was recorded as saying, "and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses...Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game?"
Refusing to play would tell Sterling, "you can't do this without us." But that wasn't his point. Playing will tell Sterling, "we can do this without you."By suiting up tonight in front of a big and boisterous crowd, the Clippers and their fans can make a statement stronger than any boycott. With their owner out of the picture, probably forever, they'll still manage to play basketball, and show everyone watching just who makes the game.