Did Donald Sterling order Clippers to help let David Robinson score 71 points?

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Why did the NBA allow Donald Sterling to remain Clippers owner through many years of racism and sexism?

A big reason: He didn’t bother other NBA owners.

For one, NBA owners were nearly all white men, not directly affected by Sterling’s abhorrent behavior. The Clippers were also harmless, a perpetually lousy team that didn’t threaten anyone.

And that might be too generous of an assessment.

Entering the final day of the 1993-94 season, Magic center Shaquille O’Neal led Spurs center David Robinson in a tight race for the scoring title. Robinson had to outscore O’Neal by five points that day to claim the crown.

Robinson scored 71 points in a win over the Clippers in Los Angeles. O’Neal scored 32 points against the Nets. That meant Robinson took the scoring title, 29.8 pointers per game to 29.3 points per game.

Two members of that 27-55 Clippers team – Dominique Wilkins and Ron Harper – revisited the game during “NBA Inside Stuff ’90s Reunion” (warning: profanity in video). After struggling to remember who coached them that season – it was Bob Weiss – Wilkins and Harper took us inside the locker room.

Wilkins:

He said, “Look, men. Just so y’all know, I’ve been told to take the starting five out after the first four minutes in the first quarter. And I’m like, “Why the hell for?” He said, “Sterling wants to see David Robinson keep the scoring title in the West.”

I swear to god. Am I lying?

Harper:

I took my uniform. I cut off my ankle tape and walked out that motherf—er.

What we did was so f—ing embarrassing.

Wilkins:

I left the arena and went back to Atlanta.

At minimum, this story is embellished. Playing time for the Clippers’ starters:

  • Mark Jackson: 16 minutes
  • Ron Harper: 20 minutes
  • Dominique Wilkins: 21 minutes
  • Loy Vaught: 25 minutes
  • Elmore Spencer: 5 minutes

Maybe the Clippers pulled only their starting center, Spencer. He played just five minutes, and I didn’t see him in any second-half game highlights. But it’s not as if the lumbering Spencer were suited to defend Robinson, anyway.

Whatever happened, the Clippers didn’t hide their displeasure in an article by Chris Baker of the Los Angeles Times at the time.

Wilkins:

“Disappointing is an understatement for this season,” Wilkins said. “There’s no pride here. If you can look at yourself in the mirror after a game like that and be happy with yourself, something’s wrong. Nothing against David, he’s a great player, but how can you let a guy get 71 points?

“I think it’s ridiculous. We helped him get 71 points. If they want to play him the whole game that’s fine, but the way we played him, it’s like we helped him.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my career, let me tell you the truth, never.

Jackson:

“If you are not committed to winning, I don’t want to be here. And I think tonight shows no commitment toward winning.”

Harper on the season:

“I’m just glad its over.

Weiss on the season:

“It was a horrible season for all of us, the worst that anyone in the locker room could has ever seen, except for the CBA guys.

This wouldn’t be the first time someone compared the Clippers to a minor-league outfit. This wouldn’t be the first time an owner directed his coach to sabotage their own team in a game. This wouldn’t be the first time Sterling cared more about the spectacle of an NBA game than whether the Clippers won.

So did Sterling actually tell Weiss to pull the starters so early to help Robinson?

The supporting evidence is weak. We’re hearing from Wilkins who said he heard from Weiss who supposedly heard from Sterling. That’s a long game of telephone. Importantly, the starters – including Wilkins and Harper – played more than their story suggested. However, all five starters also played far fewer minutes than usual.

At the very minimum, it’s believable Sterling said this. Which is troubling enough.

Report: NBA group stage could include 24 teams

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and Bulls guard Zach LaVine
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The initial report on the NBA resuming with a group stage presented a 20-team scenario. There’d be four groups with five teams each – one from each tier of the current standings:

  • Tier 1: Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers
  • Tier 2: Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz, Heat
  • Tier 3: Thunder, Rockets, Pacers, 76ers
  • Tier 4: Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nets, Magic
  • Tier 5: Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs

Teams would play each other team in its group, and the top two finishers in each group would advance to an eight-team tournament (effectively the second round of the playoffs, though without conference splits).

But that format could apparently include four more teams.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

In brief, per several sources who have seen the league’s proposal: The NBA could take 20 (or 24) teams and divide them into groups

The simplest way to expand to 24 teams would be adding a sixth tier then forming four groups of six. That’d mean adding:

  • Tier 6: Suns, Wizards, Hornets, Bulls

Bleh.

The more games the NBA holds, the more money the league will make. But the more people involved, the more risk of someone contracting and spreading coronavirus. It’s a fine line, and the league has sought a middle ground.

Phoenix, Washington, Charlotte and Chicago strike me as too lousy to include. Those teams are well outside the normal playoff race, and there’s no good reason to believe they would’ve made a late push.

In this environment, they might have shot, though. Coronavirus increases variability. Players have had differing access to resources and differing motivation to train during the hiatus. Once play resumes, positive tests could be scattered randomly. Would anyone view the Suns, Wizards, Hornets or Bulls as deserving of a berth in the eight-team tournament? If one of those four teams qualified, that’d probably just show the setup was flawed.

The fairest way to set the playoffs is with 20 teams, depending on structure. Resuming with just 16 teams wouldn’t be that far behind. The highest financial upside comes with all 30 teams, but that seems infeasible.

Setting the line at 24 teams seems like the worst of most worlds – including four bad teams that wouldn’t generate much interest but would threaten to disrupt everything else.

Michael Porter Jr.: Pray for both George Floyd’s family and police officers involved in ‘this evil’

Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. and Knicks forward Maurice Harkless
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Several NBA players posted about George Floyd, a black man who died after being pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer for about eight minutes.

Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. struck a different tone than most.

Porter:

Knicks forward Maurice Harkless:

Harkless, whose dismay was shared by many, is a seasoned veteran. Porter has made made rookie gaffes.

But I’m uncomfortable criticizing someone for calling for prayer for anyone. For some, prayer can be effective way to cope amid tragedy. Many believe prayer can change the world.

Porter didn’t say prayer alone should be the solution. In fact, he called the situation “evil” and “murder,” seemingly suggesting the need for criminal justice, too.

Basketball Hall of Fame delays enshrining Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Spurs forward Tim Duncan
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The Basketball Hall of Fame originally planned to induct Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett in August.

But coronavirus interfered.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of the board of the governors for the Hall, told ESPN Wednesday that enshrinement ceremonies for the Class of 2020, one of the most star-studded lineups ever which includes Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and the late Kobe Bryant, will be moved to spring of 2021.

Colangelo stressed there will be separate ceremonies for the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021, even though both events will now be held in the calendar year 2021. “We won’t be combining them,” he said. “The Class of 2020 is a very special class and deserves its own celebration.”

I’m so glad each class will be honored separately. Bryant, Duncan, Garnett and the rest of this class – Tamika Catchings, Rudy Tomjanovich, Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens, Eddie Sutton and Patrick Baumann – deserve their own night.

So does Paul Pierce and whoever gets selected in the next class.

Life can end at any moment. Bryant’s death was a tragic reminder of that. But there’s no specific urgency here. The Hall of Fame should wait until it’s safe to hold a proper celebration of this class… then the next one.

NBA being sued for missed rent payments amid coronavirus shutdown

NBA Store
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The NBA has been sued by the owners of the building that houses the NBA Store, who say the league owes more than $1.2 million after not paying rent in April or May.

The league responded by saying it doesn’t believe the suit has merit, because it was forced to close the New York store due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBA Media Ventures, LLC is required to pay $625,000 of its $7.5 million annual fee on the first day of each month under teams of its lease with 535-545 FEE LLC, according to the suit filed Tuesday in New York.

The NBA entered into the lease agreement for the property at 545 Fifth Ave. in November 2014.

Counting other fees such as water, the owners of the building are seeking more than $1.25 million.

“Like other retail stores on Fifth Avenue in New York City, the NBA Store was required to close as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Under those circumstances, we don’t believe these claims have any merit,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said. “We have attempted, and will continue to attempt, to work directly with our landlord to resolve this matter in a manner that is fair to all parties.”

The NBA suspended play on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic and faces hundreds of millions of dollars in losses this season, even as it works toward trying to resume play in July.