LOS ANGELES—Doc Rivers was strongly supportive of the lifetime ban the NBA handed Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling on Tuesday.
But Rivers wasn’t sure he would return as the Clippers’ coach and vice president of basketball operations. He needed more evidence Sterling was really departing.
It will become more clear if NBA owners vote to force Sterling to sell the franchise, which almost surely will happen at a date to be determined. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver does not have the power to make Sterling sell the team.
What couldn’t be predicted, though, was whether Sterling would sue to retain ownership of the team he has owned for 33 years.
“We’re just going to let this whole thing run its course and then we’ll all have better clarity,” said Rivers, who signed a three-year, $21-million contract with the Clippers last summer. “We just have to wait and see what happens.”
Sterling was banned from attending NBA games or practices, and from making business and player-personnel decisions in the league.
Rivers said the last few days had been “very difficult for everybody involved . . . no matter what their race is.”
Rivers met with reporters before the Clippers played Golden State in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. He said he felt bad for his players more than anything else.
“I felt the pressure on my players. Everyone was waiting for a response. I kept thinking, ‘They didn’t do anything,’” Rivers said.
Rivers and Golden State Coach Mark Jackson said their players might have boycotted Tuesday’s game if they’d felt the punishment handed down by Silver (which included a $2.5-million fine) was inadequate.
“They were waiting for a decision and that clearly could have happened,” Rivers said.
Said Jackson: “It was a real discussion among the players. I think they were sitting, listening very closely to the tone and the words that came out of the mouth of the commissioner.”
Rivers told his team about Sterling’s ban in the middle of a video session Tuesday morning.
“There was nothing in the room at that time when I said it. It was complete silence,” Rivers said. “Then I said what I thought I needed to tell them and then we went right back to film.”
Rivers declined to elaborate on what he specifically told the players, other than they had handled themselves well the last few days.
He said he didn’t have an opinion on whether the Clippers should change their name.
“Someone asked me that today and it’s the first time I heard it or thought of it. I have no idea,” Rivers said. “Whatever happens, if there is a new owner or change of ownership, I think all those things would be answered by somebody much smarter than me.”
Jackson said he never detected a hint of racism from Sterling while playing for the Clippers from 1992-94.
“There was no sign while I was here for two years of the man that we heard on the tape,” he said.