The sad last chapter of Sterling's life

The modern NBA superstar has his salary capped at a figure well below what he is actually worth to his franchise. That's what the owners won in the lockout. The compromise they offered -- not explicitly but with a wink and a nod -- was that the money superstars were unable to realize in salary could be made up in endorsements later. In fact, the league encouraged and helped to facilitate those deals. Paul has become a popular pitchman for State Farm. James recently launched a personalized app through Samsung. Griffin has made a small fortune endorsing Kia Motors. All three companies also had sponsorship deals with the NBA.

Silver was earning high marks from NBA players for the decisive act of banning Sterling for life. Restoring the trust of players and fans (after the 2011 NBA lockout) had been a stated central tenet of his plans when he took over as commissioner on Feb. 1. Now, with the Sterling debacle, the NBA released a steady stream of announcements and updates, responding publicly to each move Sterling and his lawyers made. Transparency was more than a strategy. It was, for Silver, a new standard operating procedure.

There had been little support for the franchise's rank and file in the aftermath of the scandal, however. Clippers HR director Raymond Ortegaso called Rivers and the league office to tell them many Clippers employees were in tears. They had been listening to irate callers yelling about how offended they'd been by Sterling's comments. Some were season-ticket holders. Some were fans. All were looking to vent.

On Saturday, May 3, deputy NBA commissioner Mark Tatum flew to L.A. and met with a group of about 70 Clippers employees. He brought corporate grief counselors; he opened the floor for questions. Roeser, a Sterling man, was placed on an indefinite leave of absence some 72 hours later. Over the next 10 days, Tatum would fly between New York and L.A. three times to deliver updates in person. If people were going to stay together, they had to be kept together.

Clippers players and coaches, meanwhile, had asked Rivers to speak for them throughout the Sterling episode. He was their human shield. "It was his voice, but it was the accumulation of all of our thoughts," says Rivers' longtime assistant Kevin Eastman. "You can't all of a sudden put your chest out there and say I'm going to lead this charge. The best leaders, they're just leaders." There was talk at the time that Rivers should receive a share in the team's next ownership structure.

But leading came at a price. Eastman noticed the strain in his body language. Rivers prides himself on reading the movements of his players. If he sees they are tired at a practice, he sends them home. If he sees they are tight, he'll force them out of it. Now he was the one flagging. But he didn't have time to be tired. "I feel like I'm going to gain 40 pounds," Rivers said later. He cut out nonessential phone calls, leaning only on his mother, his brother and his mentor, Wayne Embry. "There's no playbook here."

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