New documentary ‘Blackballed’ gives voice to players side of Donald Sterling debacle

Leave a comment

“Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game?”

Donald Sterling asks that question to V. Stiviano on the infamous recording she leaked to TMZ, the tape of racist comments by Sterling that ultimately led to the end of his ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Sterling debacle was a big step in changing the answer to that question — this was no longer the Jordan “stay out of politics” era in the NBA. Players took a stand.

“I think it was huge” in changing the culture of player empowerment, Matt Barnes told NBC Sports. “What we did, what LeBron [James] and those guys did in Miami… The world was waiting to see what we did, we kind of did what we did, and everyone followed.”

That included pushing Sterling out the door, with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banning him for life and, eventually, along with Sterling’s wife Shelly, forcing a sale of the team to Steve Ballmer.

Maybe the owners made the game in the past — Sterling had a long history of being a racist slumlord who embarrassed the league, however he’d never lost his ownership of the Clippers — but that changed in large part because the Clippers, and other players around the league, made a stand.

The Clippers players look into the camera and tell their side of this story in the new documentary “Blackballed” released this week on Quibi. There are 12 parts to the documentary, each fewer than 10 minutes long, as fits the Quibi format.

Confronting Racism

The documentary comes at a time when racism is a front-burner issue in the United States, especially in an election year.

“This story is inextricably linked to race in America beyond the game,” director Michael Jacobs said. “So conversations about racism came up naturally throughout the project.”

In one of the compelling parts of Blackballed, players — including Chris Paul and Barnes — shared stories of the intense racism they had encountered long before working for Sterling. In the case of Barnes, his story from his senior of year in a Sacramento high school was harrowing.

“From a very early age I experienced racism, I either wasn’t black enough or I wasn’t white enough, I saw it full-fledged,” said Barnes, who is bi-racial. “Then the culmination of that came in high school when a kid was throwing racial slurs at my sister, and I did what a big brother does… then two-days into my suspension my school was vandalized by the KKK, with ‘die n*****’ and swastika [grafitti], and mannequins with nooses around their neck and my jersey on them. I’d experienced a lifetime of racism by the time I was 18.”

Players tell their story

Sterling’s racism was not a surprise to Barnes and other players, but “Blackballed” puts it on full display — including cringeworthy footage from the “white party” where Sterling was showing off just-drafted Blake Griffin to his friends.

However, the former owner was never interviewed. Blackballed is the players’ story.

“I think it was an important story to be told from our point of view, because even though we were the ones that were basically talked about and affected by it, our story didn’t come out because it just wasn’t right,” Barnes said. “At the time, Doc did a great job of being the shield for the team and trying to make our lives as normal as possible, being able to focus on playoff basketball.”

“This was the first time the players were given the opportunity to speak openly about the scandal,” Jacobs said. “I anticipated some hesitancy, but once we got talking you could feel a sense of relief as they began to share their experiences in an unmediated environment.”

The Clippers were up 2-1 in an intense first-round playoff series against an up-and-coming Warriors team when Sterling’s tape was leaked and the team’s world was thrown upside down. The documentary has Rivers telling the story of how he got in front of the team and said, “My name is Glenn Rivers. I’m from Maywood. I’m black. If any of you think you’re more pissed than me, you gotta be f****** kidding,” but then reminding them they don’t play for Sterling, they play for each other.

“We did feel like we had a championship team,” said Barnes of the 57-win Clippers that season. “We had one of the better teams in the league that year, we had good success against Golden State, and we felt maybe this is it.”

The players seriously considered sitting out a game and refusing to play — DeAndre Jordan led that charge. The team wanted to make a stand, but as a group they also wanted to chase that ring they all worked their entire lives for, and the tug-of-war between those desires is evident in the documentary.

“If we sat out one game, would that count as a loss for us? We played a very good Warriors team that took us to seven games, would that count as an automatic loss for us? How many games do we sit out? Do we sit until Donald’s out?…

“Whatever we do as players, we had to be together on it. So we were bouncing ideas off the wall, everything from not playing to the idea I came up with, which was to take our Clippers’ warmups off and have our other Clipper warmups underneath flipped inside out. This is to let him know we were never playing for him, we were always playing for our teammates, the guys in the locker room, our families, and our fans.

“We wanted the world to know, through that brief stand, that what he did was wrong, and we’re also here trying to accomplish our dream.”

The start of players taking social stands

Sterling was soon after shown the door, but the league was never the same. “Blackballed” shows how what happened with Sterling, as well as player public reaction to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice — all within months of each other — changed the face of player activism in the NBA.

“Racism. Understand is here, and I think we’re seeing it more than ever,” Barnes said of what he hopes players take away from Blackballed. “I think people get mad when minorities or African American in particular bring race into situations, but it’s prevalent. It’s not everyone is racist, obviously, but there are still a handful of people that are. To me, it’s shining a light on it and hopefully waking some people up.

“Hate is a defeatest cause.”

New Orleans Pelicans fire head coach Alvin Gentry

Leave a comment

No team entered the NBA restart bubble in Orlando with the buzz of the New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson was back, they had an All-Star in Brandon Ingram and solid veterans such as J.J. Redick and Jrue Holiday around them. With all that, no team was as disappointing in the bubble as the Pelicans, who went 2-6. They looked like they were going through the motions, and all season long were less than the sum of their parts.

Saturday New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry paid the price for that and was fired, the team announced. The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez of ESPN and soon after confirmed by the organization.

It was not a surprise. Gentry was considered on shaky ground before teams flew to Florida and the disappointing play of his team while there led to team VP of basketball operations David Griffin making the change. (A sitting coach is always on shaky ground when the management above him changes, as happened with Gentry.) While Zion was not in the bubble the entire time, this is still a talented roster, one that came out like it was just going through the motions, with Lonzo Ball reportedly having checked out. No one seemed focused on the opportunity to make the postseason. That attitude is why the Pelicans fired their coach.

“I want to thank Alvin for his contributions to the Pelicans and the New Orleans community,” Pelicans Owner Gayle Benson said in a statement. “We believe that making a head coaching change is necessary at this time. I truly appreciate Alvin’s leadership, dedication and perseverance through some challenging circumstances over the past five seasons. He will always be a part of our Pelicans family, and we wish him and his family all the best in the future. Our intention moving forward is to find the right head coach that will guide this Pelicans team to compete for championships. That is what our fans deserve.”

Clippers lead assistant Tyronn Lue and Lakers lead assistant Jason Kidd — two veteran coaches who are considered player-friendly — were mentioned as potential replacements by ESPN and Marc Stein of the New York Times. Lue and Kidd have both been mentioned in connection with the open Brooklyn Nets coaching job. Both also are in the Orlando bubble with their respective teams as the playoffs are about to begin (and both likely will be there for a while). Another name to watch is current Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni, who is not expected to be brought back with the Rockets and favors the kind of up-tempo system that would suit Zion. n

The challenge with big-name replacements in New Orleans is money — this is the smallest market in the NBA and ownership has been hit hard by the economic slowdown in the wake of the coronavirus. Lue, Kidd, and D’Antoni will be expensive and demand five-year contracts. The Pelicans could look at seasoned assistant coaches who have not yet held a top spot — Sam Cassell, Ime Udoka, and there are many others — who could do the job and come at a price more within their budget.

The key for whoever gets the head coaching job is to form a strong bond with Zion, the future of the franchise, and figure out how to get the most out of him.

 

 

 

Portland, Memphis where they want to be as play-in series tips-off

Leave a comment

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Heroics were needed to get Portland and Memphis on the doorstep of the playoffs.

For the Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard averaged more than 50 points — with a shot from a step inside midcourt in there as one of his many highlights — to lead the way in three consecutive down-to-the-wire, season-on-the-line victories.

For the Grizzlies, Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas became the first teammates in Memphis history to post triple-doubles in what turned out to be a must-win game as well.

And now, the mission isn’t done yet for either club. Portland and Memphis meet Saturday at 2:30 p.m. (Eastern) in Game 1 of the Western Conference play-in series. The Trail Blazers have the upper hand by finishing the seeding-game portion of the NBA’s restart ahead of the Grizzlies. Portland needs one win, Memphis needs two to advance to a first-round matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers.

“We’re where we want to be,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “And so, I don’t think anybody’s over the moon right now. We know that we’ve got a tough opponent in Memphis, so there was no time to really celebrate.”

Had the Blazers lost any of their last three games, they could be home already. Lillard has scored 51, 61 and 42 points, respectively, in those three games — and had to sweat out a last-second shot by Brooklyn in a one-point Portland win on Thursday night that determined their play-in fate.

“I think mentally I’ll be fine,” Lillard said. “I think physically, it’ll obviously be some fatigue here. But I think it won’t be as hard as you might think because there’s a lot riding on these games. Every game that we’ve been playing, our last three or four games, has been like our season is on the line.”

The Grizzlies came into the restart at Walt Disney World in control of the play-in race, then sputtered before winning the game they needed to on Thursday against Milwaukee to clinch a spot.

Morant said he remembers when the Grizzlies were ranked 27th coming into the season in a 30-team league. He’s used that slight as fuel ever since.

“Now look at us,” Morant said. “Being that underdog doesn’t matter to us at all. We love being the underdog. It’s just extra motivation, fuel to the fire. It just makes our success even better, coming in and being the underdog.”

Game 2, if necessary, will be Sunday. The series for the play-in winner against the Lakers begins Tuesday.

Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell expected to play Monday against Dallas

Montrezl Harrell play
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

When the Clippers take the court Monday for their first playoff game in the bubble, going against Luka Doncic and a dangerous Mavericks’ team, Montrezl Harrell will be suited up and ready to play.

The Clippers’ Sixth Man of the Year candidate, who excused from the bubble due to the death of his grandmother and missed all eight seeding games, will be out of quarantine and cleared to play, report Adrian Wojnarowski and Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

Doc Rivers said he plans to play Harrell against an active Dallas front line.

“I’m just going to throw him in there, he’s earned that right,” Rivers said. “The challenge will be just how ready he is. I don’t know if I have ever had a guy that hasn’t played in eight games or whatever and hasn’t had any practice and we’re just going to throw him out on the floor in a playoff game. We’re hoping that at this point.”

Harrell came off the bench to average 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game for the Clippers this season. Harrell was often part of the Clippers closing lineup this season because of his improved defense, but he always brought relentless energy off the bench that lifted the Clippers nightly. The Harrell/Lou Williams pick-and-roll remains one of the smoothest and most dangerous in the league.

Harrell also gives Doc Rivers a lot of versatility and options on how to close games — the Clippers can go big, go small, and do either well. They will need that against a Dallas team that rolls out a front line of Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, and former Clipper Boban Marjanovic.

Not having Harrell for eight games in the bubble added to that versatility, Rivers said.

“We got to play JaMychal [Green] at the five far more than we ever thought we would. We needed to work on that because he’s such a floor spacer,” Rivers said. “We got way more work on that than we thought, but we actually liked it.”

Expect to see more of that — and some Harrell — against Dallas starting Monday.

Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin denies ex-wife’s abuse accusations

Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin – filling in for Nick Nurse – served as Toronto’s acting head coach for a win over the 76ers on Wednesday. “For one night, I felt like Cinderella,” Griffin said afterward.

Griffin’s moment in the spotlight drew attention to abuse claims his ex-wife, Audrey Griffin, had been making online for months.

Audrey Griffin:

Raptors release:

The Toronto Raptors and lead assistant coach Adrian Griffin have issued a joint statement addressing accusations of domestic abuse shared in social media posts by Griffin’s ex-wife on Thursday, Aug. 14.

Statement from Adrian Griffin:

“This morning, accusations were made against me on social media by my former wife that I vehemently deny. We are involved in a longstanding legal dispute over alimony and child support arrangements. I am disappointed to have to address false accusations in this way, and I apologize for any distraction this has potentially caused for our team at this important time.”

Statement from the Toronto Raptors:

“When we saw these allegations this morning, we were dismayed – Adrian is a valuable member of our team. Our leadership immediately spoke with him, and he flatly denied the allegations in the posts. We will support the process as he and his former partner settle these matters.”

Griffin was also reportedly a candidate for the Bulls head-coaching job, which opened today.

Hopefully, the truth will emerge and justice will be served.