Sunday, April 27, 2014

12 Years A Clipper

I won’t waste any ink providing background details on what’s going on with the Los Angeles Clippers or the NBA right now. If you’re not up to speed, then click here to get caught up. Instead, I’ll start this story on Day 2, minutes before tipoff in Game 4 of the playoffs between the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors. Full disclosure: I’m from Oakland. Amidst mountains of speculation and anticipation surrounding what kind of statement the Clippers players would or would not do, I sat on my couch waiting for another 1968 Olympics moment. Good Lord was I disappointed.

As the Clippers took the floor for their warm up, they all met at half court in a high-profile huddle. With a big flourish, they tore off their warm-up jackets and tossed them on the floor, revealing red shirts turned inside out. That would be the Clippers refusing to rep the logo of a franchise owned by a recently-outed, but long-suspected bigot. Not a bad start for a protest. Unfortunately, minutes later, they were on the court, playing Game 4 in full Clippers regalia—logos and all.

My problem with this mini-protest is that it failed to do the one thing that a protest must do—create urgency to provoke action. Instead, this show seemed to be an attempt to do as little as required before moving onto to the real business of playing basketball.

With all due respect, I completely understand the coaches’ and players’ desire to stay focused on the task at hand. Still, I was unimpressed. So, while I admit that I’ve never been a professional athlete, I find myself needing to sound off on the late night before heading to bed. Plus, one of my favorite sayings is still “Take my advice—it’s free, and I’m not using it.” With that in mind, I present to you another Live From Tomorrow list...

10 Things That the Los Angeles Clippers Should Have Done

1. Refuse to play. They could have just stayed home. Or, they could have showed up, but refuse to take the court. Honestly, this is my least favorite option. I can still remember watching the World Cup in 2010 as several French players refused to play because of a disagreement with their coach. I was, and still am, disgusted with their actions. I subscribe to  the idea that in some respects, you play for yourself, not the coach or the owner. But, at least refusing to play would have created urgency.

2. Request an off-season trade. What if every player on the Clippers spoke with their agent, then filed a formal trade request with the franchise? This would have raised the stakes without jeopardizing the team's playoff run. After all, NBA players have been known to request trades for much smaller offenses than what the Clippers have been subjected to. And please, spare me that played out “they have kids to feed” B.S. The minimum salary in the NBA is around a half a million dollars per year. That means every player on the Clippers is doing just fine, even the ones with splinters in their asses from riding the bench every night. If there is an NBA player that cannot financially afford to sit out a season, then he is an idiot, and needs to learn how to manage his money better. Find another team... go play in Italy... find a ghost writer to do a screenplay about your story and call it 12 Years a Clipper*. If grape-pickers, miners and garment-workers can do it, so can you.

3. Bring the message onto the court. This action is very common in professional sports around the world. Almost every week, teams in the English Premier League sport a ribbon, patch, or arm band of some sort to commemorate something important. NFL players even wear pink socks! While a little insignia would not have been groundbreaking, it would have been a way to channel and highlight the team solidarity.

4. Rock the mic. If I can listen to the 2nd runner up from American Idol butcher the Star-Spangled Banner, then I know there’s room Chris Paul** to say a few words on the mic—and to the world—at halftime or before the game. It’s better than watching a crew of backup dancers shoot cheap t-shirts into the second row with an air gun.

5. Drop the logos. Completely. The Clippers could have kept going with their idea, which was a good start, except fort the fact you could still see the logo on their pants. What if they all took the court in plain uniforms with no logos? The great thing about this action is that it would have forced the hand of the NBA. I'm sure Adidas would've had something to say about it. Plus, my guess is that somewhere in the rule book, it says that NBA players can’t just wear whatever they want. After all, didn’t they fine players for wearing their shorts too low? Can you imagine if the league had to make a decision about what to do? Do they make the Clippers forfeit the game? Do they let them play in plain uniforms? I doubt Mark Jackson’s Warriors would have been filing any complaints in the latter case. My sense is that what the players want most is for the league to get off the fence and have their back. I can’t think of a better way to do this than to put the ball in the commissioner’s court—are you with us, or against us?

6. A work slowdown. This is a classic protest move of industrial laborers—they don’t exactly strike, but they don’t exactly work. The Clippers could have taken the court as if everything was normal... but then refuse to play offense! Imagine how awesome that would be to watch Chris Paul walk the ball across half court then just stop. How beautiful would it have been to watch them rack up back-to-back-to-back 24 second shot clock violations. The message would have been clear. The irony is that the Warriors put up 39 points in the first quarter, leaving the Clippers down by 15 after only twelve minutes of play. Maybe if the Clippers had just “slowed down” the game and focused on playing some defense they would have been better off.

7. Black Player Salute. This one might be my favorite. The Clippers could have taken the court with custom jerseys sporting the names of some of the greatest black basketball players on whose backs the league was built. Some giants that come to mind immediately are Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Julius Erving, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Moses Malone, Bill Russell, Lenny Wilkins, and Bill Russell, just to name a few.*** If they wanted to get real creative, they could have included great black athletes who broke down barriers in other sports: Muhammed Ali, Arthur Ashe, John Carlos, Althea Gibson, Florence Griffith-Joyner, Jack Johnson, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Carl Lewis, Joe Louis, Willie Mays, Jesse Owens, Leroy "Satchel" Paige, Jackie Robinson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Wilma Rudolph, Tommie Smith, Marshall "Major" Taylor, Venus Williams, Tiger Woods****, and the list goes on. Can you imagine J. J. Redick stepping on the court with a red and blue Jim Brown jersey? And don’t try to tell me that they didn’t have enough time to get the jerseys made. I got a dude in East Oakland that can get you customized knockoff soccer jerseys from any club in the world by tomorrow, so holler at ya boy.

8. Win the game. If the Clippers hadn’t gotten spanked, then we’d all be talking about how they rallied together and used this adversity as motivation. But they did get spanked. In all fairness, I know they wanted to win. But they didn’t. I’m just saying. Maybe it sounds harsh, but as I write this, I feel bad for the players, but I do NOT feel motivated to rally behind them. If they had actually taken a stand, then I would be writing a very different article write now. But they didn’t, so I’m just another Warriors fan hoping that they lose, and hoping that they all find a better team to play for next season.

9. Play 2 on 2. The Clippers could have let J. J. Reddick and Hëdo Turkoglu take on the Warriors by themselves. Or, better yet, the two teams could have coordinated to arrange a 2 on 2 matchup: Reddick and Turkoglu vs. David Lee and Steve Blake. In other words: imagine an NBA without the black people.

10. Do nothing. Part of me feels like doing absolutely nothing would have been better than staging the mini-protest that they did. Wouldn’t that have been more true to their stated mission of staying focused on the game and playing basketball? I guess I feel like they did something just because they had to—but what they did was useless. 

Ultimately, they missed an opportunity to make history—not to make a scene, or to make history for themselves, but to create a moment that would live on in history forever. Like Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the winners podium. Like Ali refusing conscription into the army and forfeiting his heavyweight belt.. Instead, it may become another footnote in the history of American racism and so-called "40 million dollar slaves."

* The title of this blog post is taken from a hilarious meme that started circulating on the internet on Sunday, April 27, 2014.

** Ironically, Chris Paul is President of the NBA Players Association.

*** I was tempted to include Michael Jordan, but the cat always seemed to have his tongue when it was time to say something important.

**** Don't even start with me

UPDATE: At the time of writing this article, I did not know that the Clippers did in fact do #3. Apparently they wore black socks or something like that. So, my apologies for the inaccuracy. But, I will point out that I watched the entire game without noticing, so that says something about how meager the statement was.


  1. Bro,

    I am always inspired by your ability to put your thoughts on paper- if for nothing or for no one else, for yourself. You have chronicled your thoughts in powerful ways, brother. Big ups!

    I also think this Clippers fiasco is not surprising... and like yourself, I am not impressed with the team's meaningless mini-protest. Like you say, all protests necessitate an urgency to act. Additionally a real protest must make the protester vulnerable and susceptible for major consequence and reprimand. I mean, did they even get fined? Had they put black tape across the Clippers logo during the game would have had much more impact, though still that wouldn't mean shit. 40 Million Dollar Slaves is right on point. Nor do I think this exposed (again) bigot is an anomaly in this thoughts. He just the dumb motherfucker that got caught (again).

    All my respect bruh,

  2. Yours is the best--most imaginative and on point of a substantive response--I've seen yet, Drew. Sad moment in the NBA, too be sure.
    I think I like #7 best (probably not surprising to you, since it brings a bit of historical context and takes advantage of the teachable moment!) I also think a combination of #6 and #9 could have been chilling. Imagine if they'd coordinated for the entire first quarter or half, for all the black players on the court from both teams to stand still (I have all sorts of thoughts what they could do while a book and imagine those titles!) while combinations of your suggested match-ups (Reddick, Turkoglu, Lee, Blake, etc.) traded easy baskets--no real defense--leaving the score even at the end of the quarter or even all the way to the end of the half.
    Then, three quarters showing the contrast with everyone playing and the game could still count.
    Anyway, thanks for your provocative and inspiring thinking. I'm definitely going to share it. Keep writing!
    Don't know if you saw Gary Smith's piece in Sports Illustrated a few years ago titled "Why Don't More Athletes Take a Stand?," but I think you'd like it. Highlights a young Div I football player at UVA who participates in a campus hunger strike.

    1. Right on! I actually have been thinking on expanding on 6 and 9. If the Clippers refused to play, it would have pushed the Warriors to make a decision. Again, I would be money that Mark Jackson would instruct his players to not play offense either. Can you imagine 12 minutes of consecutive 24-second shot clock violations? Can you imagine little boys and girls around the world turning to their parents to ask, "Why aren't they playing?" Can you imagine TNT cutting to a commercial break so that Blake Griffin could sell us a Kia, Chris Paul could sell us All State insurance, and Steph Curry could explain to us how much the "NBA Cares." Priceless.

  3. I really liked this piece, and not just because in a 100 comment FB status I had, a lot of people also shared some of these ideas.

    That said... another thing I take issue with...I have a lot of respect for Doc Rivers, however, the fact that he didn't really like the "protest" and didn't want them to do it says a lot to me about him. He seems very... passive, for lack of a better word. And you know me. I'm not really here for passive people, but passive (Black) men in particular, especially when the moment demands more.

    I certainly think his grace under fire is admirable, but this is also a man who had his home burned to the ground due to racism and kinda shrugged and said "I won't be a victim." You weren't a vocal advocate, though, either. I think I'm struggling with the issue of the players wanting him to be their voice, when he has demonstrated he's not interested in being a voice, even for himself, in other big moments.

    I would've preferred the no offense route, or forfeit and take the "L" (since they took one, anyway), or for someone to have run down to Foot Locker and just bought black shorts and black tanks for everyone and let them play in that. OR have them play in red, black and green...including Redick. Or have them get together in a huddle after the game's over and sing "Lift Every Voice." Something.

    That said, about 4 seconds ago, your nephew just turned to me and laughed and said "Mommy, he said Black people." (We're watching Stephen A. on "First Take.") I asked him why that was funny. He said "There are no Black people. But we're brown." I've started to correct that. And thus the teachable moment begins (at least in our home)...

    1. I think my nephew might have just taught you something! Don't miss the teachable moments! Ha :) Maybe my next op ed piece will be called "What three year olds can teach us about racial constructions in America." Hilarious

    2. Cousin Drew. Magic stepping up to buy this team doesnt settle the damage . Great controlled thinking verbal outrage on this subject . ESPN's Outside the Lines will be doing a followup on this and Im waiting for Gumble's voiced opinion.I like the ideas of #.2,6 and 9.Now we'll see what the NFL does to stay on Dan Snyder's butt to change the name of his team.

    3. Yeah, he was very indignant about the fact that he is not black, but he's brown. And I said "well... yes and no."

      I actually prefer the term Black. I don't like African-American. That negates some of the other parts of who I am. Also, Charlize Theron can call herself African-American, since she's South African. So, I don't like that term. Black is pretty definitive, to me, anyway. I also think "Black" is a good summation of descendants of slaves in the Americas - African, Native, and European descendants. It's just a personal preference for me, though. I understand is others like something else.

    4. I don't like the term African-American because it take's too long to say and I don't have time for all of that. Personally, I enjoy the term Regular Black. I'm black, because I belong to the global black community, including American Blacks, Brazilian Blacks, Dominican Blacks, Xhosa Blacks, Aborigine Blacks, French Blacks, etc. The limitation of the term black is that it does not acknowledge that the experiences of blacks in America (stolen blacks and their descendants) is different than other blacks. I'm Regular Black, because, despite what many may think, I cannot claim a lineage from any cool exotic places beyond a plantation in Mississippi. I know that is disappointing to some, but it is what it is. As for brown, if we're sticking to the definition of the color brown, as my little nephew was, then that covers just about every healthy human on the planet. So, Regular Black it is for me.

    5. "As for brown, if we're sticking to the definition of the color brown, as my little nephew was, then that covers just about every healthy human on the planet."

      Ummm... no. We went down the list and he said he didn't know what color you, Daddy, Uncle Barry and Grandma were. So, there's that. lol

  4. Love the idea of plain jerseys...(sans ANY Clipper logos, heck take Jerry West off the jerseys too).

    Larry "Grandmama" Johnson doesn't sound as crazy as he did in 99'.The thing is Donald Sterling has BEEN known as a racist asshole. Didn't he call Baron Davis all types of names....AS HE PLAYED FOR HIS OWN TEAM? It feels like Marge Schott all over again.

  5. Love this post. I think there's been a lot of all or nothing, shaming the Clips players for not boycotting the game, or arguments that they have a job to do, yadda yadda. I think the appropriate response is somewhere more than what they did, but somewhere less than a boycott. I like a lot of these suggestions, esp 7. But do we really think Sterling is the only racist team owner? He's just the one who got caught. I was all for option 2 until I thought about that :)

    1. No, I do not think that Sterling is the only racist team owner. But, I think I think "the owners" collectively, are a different group of rich men then they were in the past. I also believe they are different than say, the collective group of NFL owners. There is a lot of work to be done, and today's world/NBA is certainly not "post-racial," but I think it is safe to bet that Sterling is truly the worst case scenario for these players.