Chris Paul has more than 10,000 assists in his storied NBA career to date, ranking him one of the all-time leaders in that category. But he arguably never had a more impactful assist than the one he had off the court in the spring of 2014.
At that time, his Los Angeles Clippers were in the midst of a surprising playoff run, despite the team’s inept history under its controversial owner Donald Sterling. Indeed, at that point, during the 1981-2014 period where Sterling owned the team, relocating it from San Diego to serve as little more than a vanity play, it had the worst winning percentage of any professional team in the four major U.S. team sports. And then, per Wikipedia, this happened:
On April 25, 2014, TMZ Sports released a recording of a conversation between Sterling and his mistress, V. Stiviano (born María Vanessa Perez, also known as Monica Gallegos, Vanessa Perez, and Maria Valdez).[In the recording from September 2013, a man confirmed to be Sterling was irritated over a photo Stiviano had posted on Instagram, in which she posed with Basketball Hall of Fame player and Laker great Magic Johnson. Sterling told Stiviano, who herself is part African-American: “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people,” and, “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want,” but “the little I ask you is … not to bring them to my games.”
Sterling’s comments affected the NBA, a league with predominantly black players. On April 26, the team held a meeting to discuss the incident. Both coaches and players expressed anger toward the comments, and they briefly raised the possibility of boycotting Game 4 of their series against the Golden State Warriors on April 27 before deciding against it. Instead, players protested Sterling’s remarks by wearing their shirts inside-out in order “to obscure any team logo” during their pre-game huddle. On April 28, players of the Miami Heat wore their uniform tops inside-out to show solidarity with the Clippers. LeBron James commented on the situation, “There’s no room for Donald Sterling in the NBA.”
The on-court leader for the Clippers that spring was Chris Paul. Who just happens to now be employed by the Phoenix Suns. Whose own owner, Robert Sarver, was suspended for one year and fined $10 million after the NBA’s investigation into claims of a toxic work environment found he “repeated the N-word when recounting the statements of others” at least five times and “engaged in instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees, made many sex-related comments in the workplace, made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women and, on several occasions, engaged in inappropriate physical conduct toward male employees.”
In the wake of this, Paul, a former president of the NBA Players Association and James, still no stranger to strongly worded opinions via social media, have been outspoken about how much they believe Sarver’s punishment has fallen short. Indeed, in the press conference announcing Sarver’s penalty earlier this week, NBA commissioner Adam Silver all but telegraphed that the penalty was all he was empowered to do as a de facto employee of the owners.
But owners can’t make their money without players performing for them. And in spring 2014, with the timing of the playoffs in their pocket, James, Paul and others put enough pressure on Silver to ban Sterling for life, eventually forcing him to sell the team. And, in hindsight, perhaps for even lesser violations of character and ethics than Sarver has been determined to be guilty of. After all, aside from the Suns, Sarver also owns the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. In other words, he’s Brittney Griner’s boss.
While Paul has already spoken up, he’s done so so far in a more muted way than has Suns minority owner Jahm Najafi, who issued the following statement yesterday:
“Due to the NBA’s investigation and findings, I have no choice but to speak up on behalf of the hundreds of you who have been impacted by your interactions with Robert Sarver and the resulting investigation of his conduct,” the letter stated. “I first and foremost want to give my deepest thanks to all of you who garnered the courage to share your experiences, as difficult as it may have been, to help piece together a clearer picture of what work life must have been like for you over these past 18 years.
“There should be zero tolerance for discriminatory actions of any level, in any setting, let alone a professional one. There is no question that the findings determined that Mr. Sarver’s lewd, misogynist and racist conduct had a substantial negative impact on you and has no place in our society. The report confirmed by multiple eyewitnesses that Robert Sarver used the ‘N-word’ at least five times. The report confirmed Sarver made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women and made inappropriate workplace physical conduct toward male employees. Words and actions matter.”
It may be the cusp of the pre-season, not the middle of the playoffs. But given the emotional stakes–not to mention the financial ones for a league about to negotiate its next media rights deals that could amount to hundreds of billions of dollars–there is even less room for the likes of Sarver to benefit from it. And as both a team and respected union leader, especially given his Clippers pedigree, there is no more qualified and needed champion for justice in this case than Paul is.
Paul should, perhaps with James by his side, declare to Silver and the league that they will boycott any and all Suns games until Sarver is given at least as severe a penalty as Sterling was handed. Both men have enough financial security to last several lifeimes, and even in disgrace and obscurity Sterling is living out his final days a wealthy, entitled man.
No one can or should deny Sarver that. As a businessman, he’s been a success, and has not held back on spending-just ask DeAndre Ayton, who is $68 million richer because Sarver did not want him to flee to Indiana.
But he should be denied the right to be given any further opportunity to profit despite his bigotry, and Silver deserves an infusion of power his bylaws and employers can’t–or won’t–give him to make that happen. Just like they did in Sterling’s case. And I’ve got a hunch the WNBA players will be in lockstep with their male counterparts, too.
There’s no room for double standards. Particularly in this case.
C’mon, CP3. The ball’s in your hands. Make the right play.