The absent man looms largest


OAKLAND, Calif. -- All you need to know about how topsy-turvy this day was in the midst of the Los Angeles Clippers- Golden State Warriors game here in Oakland, the media's attention focused on the mayor of Sacramento, who happens to be a former Phoenix Sun.

The true man of the moment wasn't in the building. Yet there could be no doubt: This day was all about Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Sterling was ... elsewhere.

Not sure what we should call his absence. Somewhere between a suspension and a self-imposed exile. Serving a suggested exile? It sounded that way the night before, when NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced Sterling's absence as the league begins its inquiry into the racially disparaging remarks attributed to him in a recording posted on TMZ.

Sterling's wife, Shelly, was here. She told ESPN's Lisa Salters that she wasn't sure whether the voice on the recordings was Donald Sterling's. She said that even though she has been married to him for 50 years. Shelly Sterling also said she doesn't condone racist remarks.   Kevin Johnson, Sacramento's mayor who has become the point man for the players' union on the Sterling issue, was here to meet with Silver.

At halftime, Johnson enumerated what the players want to see from Silver, including a swift resolution, an explanation of the sanctions at Silver's disposal and the maximum allowable punishment if Sterling's voice is authenticated.

Johnson also rightfully shot down the need to boycott. It's not fair to everyone who's worked so hard to get the Clippers to this point -- be it players, coaches, athletic trainers, season-ticket-account managers -- to jeopardize their chances of going further just because of the owner's attitude.

As Johnson said, "When you boycott, you boycott because you don't think it's going to be handled or dealt with appropriately, or you need more attention."

The last thing this story needed was attention. It had already blown up on social media, made the leap from ESPN to CNN and gone from the commissioner's office to the president's plate, as President Barack Obama was asked about Sterling at a news conference during his trip to Malaysia.

About the only thing a boycott would have done was save everyone the time of watching this game play to its seemingly inevitable conclusion. Maybe something like "Warriors 118, Clippers 97" would have happened anyway, given the nature of these teams and the course of this series.

Stephen Curry wasn't going to shoot 29 percent from 3-point range forever, and the market correction came quickly and drastically when he made five of his first six 3-pointers and the Warriors were on their way to a 39-point first quarter.

For anyone watching -- and probably for the Clippers themselves -- they will always wonder whether the game would have been more competitive if the Clippers hadn't been caught in the vortex of sports' current controversy.

As Johnson said of the Clippers players: "You saw the first half. They are carrying a burden."

"Maybe our focus wasn't in the right place," J.J. Redick said.

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