Even before audio of the reprehensible thoughts that ultimately forced Donald Sterling from the NBA surfaced, his racism was no secret. Sterling had harbored and acted on his sentiments about minorities for decades prior, a reality the league did its very best to dismiss until the proper time arose. But the internet – and even public record, in this case – makes any information difficult to conceal, leading Los Angeles Clippers superstar Blake Griffin to learn of Sterling’s abhorrent behavior and mindset years before the scandal that forced the owner of his team to sell.
In an illuminating, thoughtful interview with GQ, Griffin says he became aware of Sterling’s racism once it became clear the Clippers would select him with the first overall pick of the 2009 NBA draft.
When the draft lottery came out and the Clippers said they were gonna draft me, I went to Google to find out more about the Clippers, because I didn’t know a lot. And I was like, “Okay, team owned by Donald Sterling.” So then I typed in “Donald Sterling” in Google, and the first thing that pops up is “Donald Sterling racist.” And I was like, “Whoa!” So obviously I explored that, read a whole bunch of articles, read the deposition at one of his court cases. Which was awesome, if you ever have time to read some of the depositions. [laughs]
Though Griffin goes on to say that he rarely spent time with Sterling, the above goes to show just how unenviable working conditions were for Clippers players over the years. They knew the man paying their bills considered most of them second-class citizens, but were powerless to speak out against him or do anything about it in general. So much contributed to the franchise’s woes before the Lob City era, but that influence shouldn’t be discounted when assessing the Clippers’ woebegone history.
Griffin also tells GQ that he was initially against a team-wide demonstration in the playoff game at the Golden State Warriors immediately following the scandal’s inception.
Some guys wanted to do something. Some guys didn’t want to. I was one of the guys—and I don’t know, I might catch flak for this—I was one of the guys who didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to give this one incident the power that it doesn’t deserve. You know what I mean? And coincidentally, I had just, for the first time, watched the Jackie Robinson movie and watched how he dealt with it, even though obviously it’s a movie. And I’ve actually read Hank Aaron books and a lot of things. I just felt like the best way to respond to something like that is just to go out and do what we do and not let it affect us. Because we’re the ones that get affected, not anybody else. So that’s why I took that position. But I completely understood why guys did want to do something. I was just kind of one of the ones that was like, “Let’s just play basketball.”
The Clippers, memorably, wore their shooting shirts inside-out during pre-game warmups so the team’s logo couldn’t be seen. It was the perfect protest, and one in which Griffin ultimately participated.
His preference to simply “play basketball” lends credence to the notion that the Clippers were affected by the Sterling saga, though. Griffin comes close to admitting as much to GQ, saying “even not trying to think about something is energy and effort” while still downplaying its role in their eventual ouster at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Congratulations to Griffin and the rest of his teammates for not having to worry about Sterling at all going forward. What a load that must be off of their individual and collective shoulders.
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