The Clippers have three months until the start of the NBA season — or do they?
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported Thursday that Chris Paul would consider sitting out games if the disgraced and still banned Donald Sterling remained owner of the Clippers until opening night. Paul called such a hypothetical “unacceptable.”
“Something has to happen,” he told Goodman. “And something needs to happen soon — sooner rather than later.”
Paul said he would discuss plans with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Doc Rivers about a boycott. This story comes on the heels of Clippers interim CEO Dick Parsons testifying that Rivers could leave the Clippers if Sterling did, in fact, remain the team’s owner into the start of the season. But there is one question yet to be answered: What exactly would the players and coaches be boycotting?
Even if Sterling pulls off an upset and wins his case against his wife, Shelly, to remain Clippers owner, he’s still banned from the league for life. That is, after all, what this lawsuit is superficially about, right? Sterling not necessarily wanting a lifetime suspension.
So, what are you protesting?
The legal system, after the NBA tried its best to get Sterling out of the league? The commissioner, who the NBPA generally praised after handing down the initial Sterling ruling? The owners, who called off a vote which could’ve kicked Sterling out of the NBA for good after his wife agreed to sell?
Paul says something has to happen “sooner rather than later,” but what can anyone do other than wait? The process is working to oust Sterling, but it’s naturally moving slowly, because that’s what legal processes do. The forced sale of a multibillion-dollar company (even if the owners never actually voted Sterling out) is a quite literally unprecedented situation in the NBA. It’s reasonable to expect it will take more than a few months.
It’s possible all this talk of boycott is a bluff. Paul isn’t just the point guard of the Clippers in this scenario. He’s also the president of the player’s association, a group that lacks serious leadership at the moment. So, Paul could be trying to infuse some threat of a protest into the owner’s minds, just in case Sterling wins this trial and the league has to vote him out on a later date. It could be that the goal of his comments is to create even more of a sense of urgency, even though that’s not something to which a court would necessarily respond.
Frustration is perfectly normal in such a dire situation. The problem is that frustration often tends to be unproductive if it’s directed in the wrong place. Aside from helping to prove immediate damages for the league, what exactly does not playing do? And does it hurt the Clippers’ case that the most vocal anti-Sterling coach, a man who said after the tape recordings came out that he would “absolutely not” coach for a Sterling-owned team, is now an assistant on Doc’s bench just three months later?
Ultimately, a boycott has to make a pointed argument, standing against a particular injustice. Athletes can’t take away the jobs of concession vendors, advertisers, ticket salesmen and custodial workers (people who would possibly lose paychecks without games and who make at least five figures less than the players) without a specific direction.
So, for this hypothetical boycott to be considered any sort of success, the players and coaches would need to answer the question of who they are protesting against. For now, that’s somewhat ambiguous.