OAKLAND — C.J. Paul watched and wondered like the rest of us Sunday afternoon.
Sitting baseline as always, the brother of Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul wasn't sure how this team, at the center of a controversy still raw and unresolved, would respond once the ball went in the air again. He recounted how hard the last few days had been for all of them after those hateful words attributed to team owner Donald Sterling were revealed by TMZ, and Paul watched as the Clippers took the floor, the players no doubt still wondering what the NBA was going to do about it.
The players lodged a silent protest, pulling off their team warm-ups, piling them on the court and going through their drills in plain red shirts and pants. They wore black wristbands and socks.
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A reminder of the recent ugly events wasn't far away, either, as the wife of the shamed Sterling, Shelly, made the inane choice to not only attend the game but also sit in her standard seats — directly across from the team on which 12 of 14 players are African American. She wore all black, including the leather jacket and the pants and those high heels that stayed on the floor until long after the Golden State Warriors' 118-97 win.
But she wasn't inspiring, not like the Clippers players. If her attire carried any symbolism, it would be to point toward the end of her husband's disgraceful tenure as owner of the Clippers.
Yet sadly, it likely won't.
For all the tough talk that has come after of Sterling's alleged comments to his girlfriend, the reality of the NBA's constitution and bylaws is that the league can't simply take away Sterling's team because he reminded us of his warped world view.
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There will be a fine — the maximum is $1 million — and there probably will be a suspension, and Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he expects those verdicts to come down by the time Game 5 arrives Tuesday in Los Angeles.
But the notion that Sterling will be kicked out of this basketball club that he's been an embarrassing part of since 1981 appears far-fetched — at the moment. And that is where this story is about to get even more important.
The widespread trust in new Commissioner Adam Silver is a good thing. But the owners, players, coaches, executives and fans who bankroll this operation must not be fooled into thinking Silver can do this alone. It will take many to deal with an owner as tenured as Sterling.
Former player and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is acting on behalf of the National Basketball Players Association at the request of Chris Paul, met with Silver before the Warriors-Clippers game. The two of them talked in a hallway for about 15 minutes, with the players' views being expressed to the league's new boss while Johnson — who had a conference call Saturday night with the union's executive committee — sought clarity on the potential punishment.
"I think that the players … are waiting for the commissioner to act decisively," Johnson said. "They want the maximum of what constitutional bylaws will allow, and we're trying to figure out what that is. And that's why they want to know. They want the max. They want a decision to be made quickly and decisively.
"Diversity is important. If we are not valuing the players, and respecting them accordingly, or if we allow owners to do anything other than to esteem and work in partnership, it's just not acceptable. … Anything that taints or tarnishes this great game that we love so dearly (is not acceptable).
There is no place for that. And there is a unanimous sentiment about that."
The only path to that outcome, however, is by continuing to apply pressure that Sterling should have been getting from the NBA years ago. It will be messy and could include endless legalities, but getting Sterling out starts with him getting the message that he is no longer wanted in these parts.
It's people such as Rivers, who was asked if he could return next season if Sterling still owned the team. He gave the perfect answer: "Don't know yet. Just going to leave it at that."
It's Warriors coach Mark Jackson, who was asked if he would coach the Clippers if he found himself without a job anytime soon: "I cannot right now. Knowing the mentality, I cannot."
It's Michael Jordan speaking out as he did Sunday, the Charlotte Bobcats owner and legend of the game admonishing Sterling's words.
This should be just the beginning. That's the part that must not be forgotten. Let up, and you let Sterling off.
"I think if there's anything, racism, (or) injustice of any kind, it should always be front and center and we should never run from it," Rivers said. "I think we all do a good job running from it. You should never run from it; you should confront it and try to do your best to handle it. I think we are doing our best right now in this case by trying to do that.
"How long it needs to stay front and center? I don't know. Let's say until there is none. You know? Maybe that's how long."