LOS ANGELES — Wearing a crisp white shirt and a much-relieved expression on his face, Doc Rivers emerged from behind a black curtain and sat before a room filled to capacity, the back wall lined with banks of television cameras, all of their lenses trained on him.
The Los Angeles Clippers had credentialed nearly 300 media members for their playoff game against the Golden State Warriors Tuesday, nearly triple the amount for a normal playoff game.
But this game wasn’t normal, not by any means.
Hours earlier, on the other side of the country, NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned embattled Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the league for life after Sterling’s recorded racist comments sparked a global firestorm.
If there were questions about whether the Clippers and Warriors would play, whether fans would attend and whether the streets outside Staples Center would be filled with protesters, then Silver’s swift and stunning punishment answered their calls for justice while restoring order and a sense of normalcy to the game.
Beneath cloudless, sunny skies with the temperatures hovering near 90, the streets outside the downtown arena were calm, save for a few fans milling about and photographers and television reporters scrambling for interviews.
And when Rivers leaned toward a microphone and drew a breath before making his first public comments since Silver’s ruling, the Clippers coach and senior vice president of basketball operations looked satisfied and encouraged, if still a little haggard from the events of the past few days and the toll it took on him and his players.
“I don’t think this is something we rejoice in, or anything like that,” Rivers, the former Celtics coach for nine seasons until he left last summer, said before the Clippers’ 113-103 playoff victory.
“I told the players about the decision. I think they were just happy there was a resolution and it was over. I think we’re all in a better place because of this.”
Rivers has faced racist issues before, such as when he was a player in San Antonio and his family’s home was burned to the ground while everyone was away.
“You learn over and over that when something like this happens with a burden of racism, it always falls on the person who has been offended to respond,” he said.
“I’ve always thought that was interesting. I felt the pressure on my players. Everyone was waiting for them to give a response. I kept thinking, they didn’t do anything, yet they have to respond.
“So Adam responded. I thought that that was the sigh of relief that we needed. Is this over? No, it’s not over. But it’s the start of a healing process that we need and it’s the start for our organization to try to get through this and that’s very important.”
Sterling is banned from all Clippers games, practices, all NBA facilities, and is prohibited from making team personnel decisions.
But even though Silver said the league will attempt to force Sterling to sell the Clippers, Sterling still technically owns the team that he bought in 1981.
There were reports that if Stering remained in place, Rivers would leave.
Rivers was asked multiple times about his future with the Clippers -- and the answers were unclear.
“I think we’re going to let this whole thing run its course and then we’ll have better clarity,” Rivers said. “I’m not in the position, nor do I want to be in the position, where I sound like I’m threatening anything. Let’s just see where it goes with that.”
Can Rivers work for Sterling?
“I don’t know if I am,” Rivers said. “I really don’t. I think that’s the point of this.”
Can he work for Sterling if Sterling somehow maintains control?
“I don’t think he will be,” Rivers said. “I think that’s clear. I think Adam has made that clear. A lifetime ban is a lifetime ban. I think that’s already been decided. I think that’s the right decision.”
Does this give Rivers any clarity going forward?
“Listen, I haven’t thought about it,” Rivers said. “I hadn’t thought about leaving, staying. And the main reason is honestly, this should not be about me and what I’m doing or what to do. I want to coach. I love coaching.”
Rivers added that Silver’s decision does make his own decision easier, though now it’s not clear who’s at the top of the organization.
“I don’t know who to call if I need something,” Rivers said. “The quicker this is done, the better for everyone. Given that, it’s going to take time and we all have to be patient.”
Rivers also reiterated that while he had heard Sterling had racist tendencies, Rivers didn’t know how deep they ran, even when he briefly played for the Clippers in the early 1990s.
“Obviously, I’ve heard stuff . . . but it hadn’t happened to us,” Rivers said. “We hadn’t seen it. So the answer would be no. I came here on good faith and everything I’ve asked, they’ve allowed me to do. But then this happened and here was proof.”
Rivers told his players of Silver’s decision during a film session.
“Honestly, there was nothing in the room at that time when I said it,” Rivers said. “There was complete silence. I said what I felt like I needed to tell them and we went right back to work.”
Golden State coach Mark Jackson said he and his players were prepared to boycott the game. “It was a real option,” Jackson said before the game.
But, like the Clippers players, the Warriors were relieved and impressed with Silver’s decision.
“I thought he was absolutely incredible,” Jackson said. “I thought he hit it out the park with the way he took control of the moment. It was great to see. I think it was exactly what the doctor ordered.”
In a statement, Clippers point guard Chris Paul said, in part, “my teammates and I are in agreement with [Silver’s] decision. We appreciate the strong leadership from Commissioner Silver and he has our full support.”
As he neared the end of a nearly 18-minute session with reporters, Rivers pointed to a lesson from his late father, Grady Rivers, a police officer in Chicago.
“He would’ve told me to go do my job,” Rivers said, “and don’t let anyone stop you from doing your job.”Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.