There were plenty of threats of boycotts and protests circulating among NBA players and NBA circles after the news came out about Donald Sterling’s racially insensitive rant to his girlfriend became public. That was just the straw that broke the camel’s back with Sterling and focused public ire directly on him.
The pressure to do something about Sterling grew on Adam Silver until he had to do something decisive and definitive about Sterling.
That pressure did not come just from the public but from the players and the Players Association. The threat of a walk-out, sit-in, player protest or boycott was very real, as Marcus Thompson II of the San Jose Mercury News reported before Golden State’s Game Five against Los Angeles:
“The Warriors were going to go through pre-game warm-ups and take part in the national anthem and starting line-up introductions. They were going to take the floor for the jump ball, dapping up the Clippers players as is customary before games.
Then once the ball was in the air, they were just going to walk off. All 15 of them.
‘It would have been our only chance to make a statement in front of the biggest audience that we weren’t going to accept anything but the maximum punishment,’ Curry said. ‘We would deal with the consequences later but we were not going to play.'”
Things do not get any realer than that. Imagine the NBA having to deal with the public perception nightmare of players walking off the court in protest during the Playoffs when the attention of the sports world is squarely on them. In this situation it becomes even heightened with the general public uproar that came from this Donald Sterling incident.
The players were prepared to make a very public statement of their objection to Sterling remaining in the league. This was confirmed by NBPA Vice President Roger Mason to Colleen Curry of ABC News and David Aldridge of TNT reported during last night’s game that the Warriors and Clippers had planned to walk off the court if the lifetime ban was not issued and several other key players around the league playing last night would have done the same.
This incident struck a cord with the players that previous incidents with Sterling did not and spurred them to immediate action. Silver had to act to keep the players happy and protect the NBA’s brand. This may not have been the primary reason for issuing the lifetime ban on Sterling, but it certainly had to be a consideration and a pressure weighing on Silver’s decision.
The players universally came out in support of Silver and the action he took ridding the league of this problem.