First Chaos, Then Clarity

'We Are One'

Rivers gave the Clippers the day off on Monday, although most players came in for treatment or a workout anyway. The team's media relations staff canceled all player availability. You're not supposed to do that in the playoffs, but at that point all that mattered was protecting the players. Go ahead, fine them.

On Tuesday, the team gathered for its customary gameday shootaround at 10 a.m. PT. Silver's ruling and news conference was set for 11 a.m.

The Clippers did not watch.

After 72 hours of chaos, Rivers brought the focus back to basketball. This was their team now, not Sterling's. This was their playoff series, their Game 5, their championship dream.

A league representative called Roeser a few minutes before 11 to inform him that Sterling would be banned for life from the NBA and fined the maximum $2.5 million and that Silver would be urging the league's board of governors to move quickly to strip him of his ownership and force a sale. Roeser quickly wrote up a note and had it delivered to Rivers down on the practice court. Rivers opened it, read it and put it in his pocket. The Clippers continued with their practice.

The Warriors were the enemy again. Basketball was what mattered.

Outside, cars honked their horns as they drove by the Clippers' facility. It felt like one of those days the whole city was watching and waiting on the same thing together. Like when the verdict in a huge celebrity trial is read or election results are announced. People in Los Angeles are used to being disappointed on days like this. The cops who beat up Rodney King were acquitted, and the city rioted. But on this day, Silver gave the people what they wanted.

"Adam did react swiftly, and it was a great day for everyone," Paul said. "We're happy about moving forward. ... It seemed like a burden was lifted off of everybody and we could get back to playing basketball."

The Clippers won going away 113-103.

Near the end of the game, Rivers walked along the Clippers' bench, giving each one of his players a high-five. At the end of a very long week, he allowed himself a moment to enjoy it. His focus had been entirely on his players -- on protecting them, supporting them, fighting for them. Now, he allowed himself a little fist pump. Like Tiger Woods sinking a long putt. This felt good.

It had been a bizarre night. Protests had been planned, then canceled after Silver brought down the hammer. Sponsors had canceled or suspended their associations with the team, so the entire arena had been tarped in Clipper blue. Instead of advertisements, one message remained on the scoreboards throughout the game.

"We Are One."

Every Clippers staffer, from general manager Gary Sacks to the team's PR staff, had dressed in black to show unity. Fans wearing T-shirts with a line through Sterling's face were shown on the video board.

"We might just keep it that way," one Clippers official said. "I thought it was an incredible in-game atmosphere."

C.J. Paul lingered awhile after the game, chatting with friends. He was drained. They all were.

After 45 minutes, arena personnel started taking down the Clippers banners, revealing the old ads underneath. The moment was passing. But the world had changed.

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