First Chaos, Then Clarity

'Unless you're in it, you don't know'

Chris and C.J. didn't sleep much. By Saturday morning, Chris was on the phone with NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, the acting director of the NBA Players Association. His teammates were furious - angry at Sterling for what he'd said and also for the way the news was disrupting their season at its most important moment.

Paul is a natural leader. Student body president in high school, captain of every team he ever played on, organizer of his 10-year high school reunion. If there's a void, he steps into it. But this was too big a rip in the fabric of the NBA for one man to sew up. And he had a playoff game in 24 hours. He leaned on Johnson and on his brother for help. They called an early Saturday morning players meeting at the Clippers' team hotel. Most of them had barely slept. Players from around the league were texting them at all hours, telling them what they would do. That the Clippers should boycott, sit out, protest, anything to express the collective outrage they were all feeling.

"I think every player probably got at least one text or one call that said, 'You guys shouldn't play.' I got texts saying they shouldn't play," C.J. Paul said. "But my thing is, 'Unless you're in it, you don't know.'

You don't know, because you haven't been in the fight with the Clippers all season. Their championship dreams are their own. The peace they'd all made with playing for and taking a check from Sterling was their own, too. "They didn't want to not play," one Clippers staffer said. "They worked their ass off to get there." This was Sterling's mess, not theirs. Why should they have to throw away their season?

Still, they couldn't carry on as if nothing had happened. This couldn't be tolerated. A message had to be sent. For them, for their fellow players around the league, for anyone, they thought, who has ever felt the unmistakable blow of racist language. All day Saturday, they held meetings, some formal, some informal. They texted and called each other. In between, they held a brief practice at a gym on the University of San Francisco campus, mostly just to break a sweat and get some shots up. The one thing they all agreed on was that Clippers coach Doc Rivers should be their voice.

"They're young men," Rivers said. "It shouldn't be African-American men. We have two white guys. It's about being human. No one was happy about it. J.J. Redick was just as pissed as Chris Paul, and that's the way it should be.

"Having said that, our goal is to win the NBA title and we're not going to let anything stand in the way of that. That's adversity that we didn't want but we have it and we have to deal with it and we'll deal with it internally but we're not going to share it with anybody else."

A commissioner's defining moment

There was no time to prepare for facing the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 on Sunday afternoon. One player estimated the team spent less than half an hour discussing the adjustments the players needed to make from Game 3. Another team insider said it was probably even less than that.

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