"I didn't really care if any other players spoke out," James said. "I was doing it because I felt like I needed to speak out. I'm still learning. I'm going to give back when I can. There's a group that's going to come behind me. There's a group that's going to come behind those guys. This beautiful game has to continue to flow the right way, and, where I can make an impact, I'm going to continue to do it."
Once James spoke, others did. Whether through social media or in front of cameras and microphones, NBA players came together in pushing for Sterling's ouster.
"Nothing has really happened like that," Heat teammate Chris Bosh said. "It hits home. And we felt a need to exercise our right to speak up about things, set the tone for other teams and show the young fellas out there, 'No, this isn't OK and we're going to say something about it.' Getting the word out.
"I think a part of it is technology -- social media -- and getting the word out. The Arab Spring kind of kicked all that off on a worldwide basis. After that, it's been like that all over."
Kevin Durant remembers once meeting Sterling at Nobu, an upscale sushi restaurant in Malibu. "He was as nice as can be," Durant said, shaking his head at the memory.
"He was out with his wife and kids."
At first, he struggled to reconcile news of the racist rant with the man he had met, but the more he thought about it, the angrier he grew. "I couldn't believe it happened," Durant said. "In this day and age, our country has moved so far from that, you know?"
For Durant, it was a moment to consider his own voice. Durant says he wasn't asked about the incident by Oklahoma City-area media in the days after Sterling's comments had gone viral. And in the aftermath of a damning "Mr. Unreliable" headline in the hometown paper after a painful playoff loss, his media sessions were particularly closely monitored and limited by Thunder PR staff. Durant is just 25 years old. On his way up, aspiring to the throne 29-year-old James and 35-year-old Bryant have each attained several times. "There's so many powerful figures out there," he said. "It's taken me a while to realize, not, like, the power that I have, but the platform."
He felt not only the platform but the need for solidarity. "We'll come together, as a league, as brothers," he said. And on May 6, feeling some new inkling of what he might be capable of, Durant delivered a powerful and personal acceptance speech upon winning the league MVP trophy. "The response I've gotten the last few days has been like overwhelming," he said. "I never even thought that could happen."
In the days after he first heard the Sterling tapes, Silver had spoken directly to Clippers coach Doc Rivers, James and Paul, among others, soliciting opinions on how -- not whether -- the league should move to exile Sterling. Once the Clippers' sponsors began running for the hills, the NBA had all the cause it needed to justify moving to terminate his ownership. Sterling hadn't just become morally intolerable, he'd become bad for business.