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Players boycotting playoff games in protest of Donald Sterling was never a real option

Apr 30, 2014, 12:17 AM EDT

Adam Silver handled the Donald Sterling situation about as perfectly as could have been expected, imposing a lifetime ban on the Clippers owner along with detailing plans to force him to sell the team, thereby exiling him from the NBA altogether.

In case the commissioner had come down less forcefully on Sterling, the players were reportedly considering boycotting games — a move that may have seemed impactful today, but in the long run, would have been extremely short-sighted.

The Warriors detailed their plan, and on paper, it seemed incredibly dramatic. But we’ll never know whether or not this might have actually happened, and honestly, it wouldn’t have made a whole lot of sense.

Donald Sterling is the league’s longest-tenured owner, having purchased the Clippers for $12 million back in 1981. That’s more than 30 years as an NBA owner, while players are often fortunate if their careers last even a third as long.

That’s one reason a boycott would only have served to hurt the players themselves.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have very few years where championship contention is a legitimate reality, and this happens to be one of them. The West is as wide open as ever, with teams like the Spurs and the Thunder both struggling to advance against lesser first round opponents.

L.A. already has essentially forfeited a playoff game against the Warriors by allowing all of this Sterling nonsense to become a distraction, and a boycott by ether team would only serve to make this first round series even more difficult to win by either side.

Players’ careers are finite, and the opportunities to contend for a title are even more limited. Sterling’s remarks were awful, and it has to be incredibly difficult for the players to focus under these circumstances. But no one signed up to play specifically for Sterling — he may own the Clippers, but players came there either through the draft or free agency simply to play basketball at the professional level for one of the league’s 30 teams.

Maybe in Dallas, free agents choose to sign on with the Mavericks because of Mark Cuban, and how active he is in his team’s pursuit of a winning culture. But most players have very little interaction with ownership, so in the case of the Clippers and the Warriors, they need to be a little more selfish.

The reality is that the players are playing for themselves — their personal legacy, or their personal future earning potential. Choosing to sit out of playoff games in some form of protest would only damage those goals, and would have little impact on anyone else. For that reason, a boycott of any kind was never a real option.

Thankfully, the league’s response was of the appropriate strength so that the players never needed to seriously consider it.

  1. antistratfordian - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:41 AM

    Some things are more important than the game – and they know that. It wouldn’t have been the first time an athlete sacrificed a portion of his prime to stand for something. So I think you’re underestimating the players.

    • capya - Apr 30, 2014 at 2:19 AM

      This. Thank you, the author apparently has no concept of the self-sacrifice that has been required at every step of the civil rights movement. “Opportunities to contend for a title?” Please. People have laid down their lives in the fight for equality. Get some perspective.

  2. trbowman - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:56 AM

    Only in the NBA do you ever have this level of drama.

    • ranfan12 - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:31 AM

      You must be new to sports lol

    • 1historian - Apr 30, 2014 at 7:09 AM

      You call it drama, I call it silly. And apparently you believe the players when they say they would have boycotted the game. To me that’s the Burger King of b.s. – the whopper. In any case we’ll never know.

      The ONLY boycott the owners will respect and pay attention to is empty seats – lots of them.

      This is all about MONEY. E.G. – deadline for the apps for Lakers’ season tickets is May 19. Having stunk up the joint this past season the Lakers are in the draft lottery and hoping to get a high pick. If they get a high pick tickets will be at a premium. If they don’t get a high pick they won’t be such hot items.

      The deadline for ticket apps is the day before the lottery picks – do the math.

      It’s just business, Sonny – it’s nothing personal.

    • packergator - Apr 30, 2014 at 8:38 AM

      You don’t watch much pro football, do you?

  3. Tim's Neighbor - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:48 AM

    Coverage of this fiasco gets worse and worse.

    Yes. Those ballplayers of color best know what is best for them. Just keep playin ball, boy. And don’t go getting smart and questioning your owners.

    Ridiculous.

    • money2long - Apr 30, 2014 at 3:23 AM

      Boy ?

      • 1historian - Apr 30, 2014 at 6:55 AM

        It’s sarcasm.

  4. andreboy1 - Apr 30, 2014 at 3:12 AM

    Before this event a five minute Google search of Sterling would have told you he was a racist. There are sworn affidavits describing his racism.

    But Paul and Rivers had no qualms about taking his money and playing for him. But now they’re outraged?

    Just Sayin’

    • money2long - Apr 30, 2014 at 3:25 AM

      How do u know they did a google search like you ?
      What we do know is now they are fully aware of this man’s antics and yes, so now they are mad.
      Any more questions ?

    • 1historian - Apr 30, 2014 at 8:05 AM

      BULLETIN – WE WHITE FOLKS DON’T HAVE THE MONOPOLY ON RACISM ANY MORE!!

      FILM AT ELEVEN!!

      • dacapt704 - Apr 30, 2014 at 9:01 AM

        Calm down and take the caps lock off…no one said that you did. This is an example of ONE white man who is racist….there have been no attacks on other white owners, no one has made any general statements about who the racists are. I know many Black ppl who are just as racist against Whites. Get a latte and chill out this morning…you’re looking for a reason to get riled up

        #learnfacts

  5. eugenesaxe1 - Apr 30, 2014 at 3:27 AM

    Wouldn’t a boycott constitute throwing a game? Isn’t throwing a game about the worst thing an athlete can do?

    • 1historian - Apr 30, 2014 at 7:19 AM

      That depends on whether or not one believes that they would actually have done that – I personally don’t think they would have the cojones to do that.

      That takes guts I don’t think they have. It makes great copy, but remember that ‘if’ is an awfully big word. But they’ll be braggin’ about it – bet on that.

    • packergator - Apr 30, 2014 at 8:42 AM

      I wouldn’t equate a boycott with “throwing a game.” The players – whether you think they would have followed through or not – were prepared to stand for something important. Throwing a game implies there are selfish reasons involved – like getting a cut of betting money, etc.

      • eugenesaxe1 - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:00 PM

        Reasons don’t matter. Walking away from the game immediately after tip-off guarantees that team loses. You can nickel-and-dime on terminology, but it still amounts to “actively conspiring to pre-determine the game’s outcome”-AKA throwing the game.

    • steelcitywhitty - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:32 PM

      a boycott means the game would not be played. there would be no winners because there were no players. you would have a arena full of people who paid for a playoff game with nobody around to play.

      Just think about how much money that would cost.

      Fans, advertisers (local and regional), would have to be reimbursed. all that food that is cooked in preparation to the game would be ruined (I think concessions are not shared).

      But most importantly there would be a humongo breach of that TV contract! That’s where the other owners were really effected.

      • eugenesaxe1 - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:54 PM

        One team can boycott a game, the other team wins via forfeit.

        I don’t think they would have done it anyway, I’m sure the union knew it would end in disaster. Just pointing out that they’d be throwing their careers away.

  6. hoopersx - Apr 30, 2014 at 6:43 AM

    As much as I admire the actions Silver and the league took, I do find all of this a bit curious why when it impacted 400 millionaires, suddenly everyone got angry and took a stand. But back when it was just poor African-American and Latino folks taking the brunt of his racism, nobody ever seemed to care and they still dont. It might be a good thing he was brought to task for this… but its really sad that nobody seems to be concerned with the little people he’s been screwing for decades.

    • 1historian - Apr 30, 2014 at 7:15 AM

      Nobody MAKES people do business with him

      Nobody MAKES people buy tickets

      Nobody MAKES people spend money on overpriced souvenirs, overpriced beer and food after buying overpriced tickets

      Nobody MADE the NAACP give him a lifetime achievement award. (which they are frantically trying to rescind)

      Granted the man seems to have a remarkable resemblance to the southern end of a northbound horse

  7. ddmcd1974 - Apr 30, 2014 at 8:30 AM

    Yeah they’re real mad that’s why they couldn’t practice or Rivers couldn’t get face to face with Sterling. No cajones. Those rough and tough backgrounds we always hear about didn’t make them mentally tough that’s for sure.

  8. sonnysuave - Apr 30, 2014 at 8:31 AM

    The author’s title is misleading & way off! According to his story… boycotting is a bad option for the players. But if the NBPA announced their intentions publicly on live TV, I believe the players were ready to boycott. Roger Mason didn’t pull that statement outta his a$$.

    • imnotyourbuddyguy - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:19 AM

      The writers likes to subscribe to conspiracy theories, and posts blogs where he makes declarations where he has zero evidence.

      • sonnysuave - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:26 AM

        True. Sux that us readers still get duped to click on these falsities. Wish writers were more accurate about their headlines… prolly will never happen tho.

  9. phillyguyindc - Apr 30, 2014 at 9:12 AM

    If they boycotted the game, the fans would have been outraged and they may have lost some public support locally. A high risk manuever.

    • shanelsweet - Apr 30, 2014 at 10:38 AM

      So you say, but I say they would have made many more fans. Don’t think for a minute that most folks don’t despise racists and would strongly support the players.

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