Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson handles point on players’ behalf in Donald Sterling dilemma

Kevin Johnson all smiles with Sacramento Kings owners Mark Mastrov and Vivek Ranadivé. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

OAKLAND, Calif. – If the remarks are proven to be his, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson says the players want stiff sanctions and punishment for Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

Johnson, who is serving in an advisory role for the NBPA, discussed the stance of the players on the controversy surrounding Sterling at halftime of Sunday’s playoff game at Oracle Arena.  A firestorm has erupted over the past 48 hours following the release of an audio recording believed to be of Sterling making racist comments regarding a number of issues to his half Mexican/half African American girlfriend.

“There’s absolutely no place in the NBA family for ignorance, intolerance, reprehensible comments that are unacceptable and not fitting for what this league is all about,” Johnson said.

Below is a breakdown of Johnson’s more-than-20-minute session with media addressing the situation at Sunday’s contest between the Warriors and Clippers.

  • Johnson says that he received a phone call the other day from Clippers point guard and union president Chris Paul asking for his assistance on the matter and agreed to help with no hesitation.  “I think all of us here understand the gravity of the moment, the significance of the alleged comments,” Johnson said. “And I felt it was extremely important for the players to have a voice that would bring them together and then to allow the players who are currently playing to focus on basketball.  And we can do both.”
  • Johnson has been actively engaged in talks with Paul, union representatives and NBA commissioner Adam Silver.  “I spent the last 24 hours in conversations with him, Chris Paul and a number of players around the league,” Johnson said.  “And I want to be clear to say this.  We are not just the league’s office.  This is just not a league of players.  We are collectively one family.  And I am confident this family will speak together in one voice.”
  • In his conversations with Silver, the mayor outlined five key objectives that players would like the league to see through.
    • They want Sterling banned from watching anymore games in person the rest of this postseason.
    • They want a full account of Sterling’s past transgressions and an explanation of why the Clippers owner was never reprimanded before.  Sterling has a long history of discriminatory behavior that has been well-documented.
    • The players want the commissioner to explain the range of sanctions that the league can exercise if Sterling is proven guilty.
    • They want assurance from Silver that the union will be involved by the league in determining punishment for the Clippers owner. “We believe this is a defining moment for the league,” Johnson said. “It’s a defining moment for the commissioner and it’s a defining moment for all the players in this league.”
    • Players want swift, decisive and unequivocal action taken by the commissioner to solve this matter.  They would like the situation to be addressed sooner rather than later so that the focus can shift back to the court.
  • More Johnson on how involved the players want to be in the process that determines Sterling’s fate: “The players want two-way accountability.  The players are not going to sit on the sidelines and allow decisions to be made and sanctions to come down without weighing in.  This is an opportunity for the players’ association to use this moment to galvanize itself and I think everyone in here can see it taking place.”
  • Can the NBA Board of Governors vote to remove Sterling as owner of the Clippers?  “I think it’s a little more complicated than that.  I’ll tell you what I do know is that No. 1, the players are outraged by what took place.  Due process has to take place.  We are all committed to due process and I think what we’re all struggling with right now is how do we not get too hasty or rush to judgement.  And at the same token, we can’t approach this with any hesitancy.  And that’s the balance we’re trying to strike.”
  • Johnson has no concerns about Sterling’s fellow owners standing together with players on this issue.  “I have no doubt that they will have the unity,” Johnson said.  “Zero.  If you think about when I said we are a family and we need to speak in one voice, yes, I’m talking about players.  I’m also talking about the owners in this league.  The lifeblood of the NBA is the fans.  The lifeblood, the spirit and the texture of everything we do is about the fans.  And when we behave and have reprehensible comments that are offensive not just to players, but to society, that’s not acceptable.  There has to be zero tolerance in that and every owner, they understand that.”
  • Not only do players and owners line up morally as one on this issue, but Johnson believes they also align together business-wise as well.  “Anything that taints and tarnishes that or precludes or ability to make more dollars and be more successful, that’s just not acceptable,” Johnson said. “That’s consistent with the owners.  We’re all lined up on this issue the same way as one family speaking in one voice.”
  • Johnson said that players are eager to find out what kind of punishment the league can exercise on Sterling if the statements made on the audio recording are proven to be his.  “They want to know within the bylaws and in the constitution what are the maximum sanctions that are available for the commissioner to (use),” Johnson said.  “That’s what we’re trying to understand and that is what the players want.  And if it allows a player to voice an opinion where the commissioner and owners make a decision to remove somebody, then that’s certainly what the players would like to see.  But we’re trying to understand what those maximum powers look like and what’s afforded with the constitution and the bylaws.”
  • The mayor believes that part of what galvanized players on this issue were the comments Sterling allegedly made about NBA legend Magic Johnson.  “The reason why they’re all so ticked off is because of what Magic Johnson means to this league and what he means to each and every one of us,” Johnson said.  “We have been taught that this is bigger than basketball – our conduct and what we do day in and day out.  It’s bigger than basketball.  We have an obligation to society.  That’s also why they’re outraged.  Because anything that taints or tarnishes this great game that we love so dearly, there is no place for that and there is a unanimous sentiment around that.”
  • The Clippers made a statement by wearing their warm-ups inside out, keeping the Clipper name from being visibly displayed before and during the game.  Johnson was asked about the silent act and didn’t confirm that he knew the players were going to make the gesture during the game.  However, the mayor said he told players two things.  “Individually you have to speak and articulate whatever it is that you believe that you need to say,” Johnson said.  “No one should silence your voice. And then as a union, this is our opportunity to come together collectively and speak in one voice and have our voices being heard and I think you’re seeing both of those play out in a real way.”  According to Yahoo! Sports, Clippers veterans Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes came up with the idea and persuaded teammates to follow suit.
  • If the NBA can’t take the Clippers from Sterling’s control,  what do the players at minimum want to see happen to him if the comments are proven to be from him?  “I think the players are waiting for the commissioner to act decisively,” Johnson said.  “If you think about the four, five points that I laid out, they want the maximum of what that constitution and bylaws will allow.  And we’re trying to figure out what that is and that’s what they want to know.  They want the maximum.  They want a decision to be made quickly and decisively.  Because if you don’t respect the players in this league, then the values that we all espouse are for naught.”
  • According to Johnson, members of the California black caucus are exploring the idea of boycotts and protests, but he’s told them to hold off for now.  Johnson said that further response is currently being held off because the players would like to see how this situation is handled in coming days.
  • Sterling’s history of racist and discriminatory behavior is the league’s worst kept secret.  Should players have taken that into account when looking at the Clippers as a destination to play?  “I think in hindsight, a lot of players and coaches probably would’ve taken that into consideration,” Johnson said.  “But I will guarantee you going forward, this will be at the forefront of every decision that we make.”
  • Johnson on the NBA maintaining their promotion of ethnic diversity: “If you think about the NBA, it has prided itself on our diversity.  That’s been our strength in this league.  It’s been our strength when you think about 43 percent of our coaches are African American, over 75 percent of NBA players are African American.  Over 80 percent of the players in this league are people of color.  We have owners (in the league that are minorities).  Michael Jordan is a person of color, Vivek Ranadivé, who owns the Sacramento Kings, he’s a person of color.  When you think of the NBA and the emerging markets that we’re looking at going into – India, China – diversity is important.  And if we are not valuing the players and respecting them accordingly or if we allow owners to esteem and work in partnership, it’s just not acceptable.  So I can guarantee you it will be at the forefront of every decision a player makes going forward to make sure the owner has the values that are consistent with what we believe this league represents and stands for.”
  • The Clippers lost Game 4 to the Warriors in a blowout.  Johnson was asked if he could’ve played in today’s contest considering the circumstances surrounding it.  “It would’ve been hard,” Johnson said.  “It would’ve been really hard.  The Clippers and Doc (Rivers) and Chris, they’re not gonna make any excuse.  You saw the first half.  It’s hard and I started by saying they’re carrying a burden.  And they’re trying to cope through it and still take care of business and they’re professionals.  In that locker room, they said we are brothers, banded together and we’re gonna play for each other, we’re gonna play for the fans that support us, we’re gonna play for this league and we’re gonna do our best, but there’s a real burden there.”  He also noted that it was right that the game was played.

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About: Jonathan Santiago

Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.