Sports

What's a Clippers fan to do? A tough call, thanks to Donald Sterling

Los Angeles ClippersSportsNBAColumnProfessional BasketballDonald SterlingGolden State Warriors

The tugging and twisting began Saturday morning, friends texting, acquaintances calling, everyone wondering.

What was JoLai Draper going to do?

She's a 42-year-old procurement agent at Boeing, a lifetime Inglewood resident with strong ties throughout the community, but none of that mattered.

Full coverage: The Donald Sterling controversy

She is also a longtime Clippers season-ticket holder who happens to be African American. In the wake of comments about blacks allegedly made by Clippers owner Donald Sterling, it was suddenly as if her entire image was based on how she handled those tickets.

What was JoLai Draper going to do?

After hours of pressure from every corner of her life, Draper finally did the only thing she felt she could do.

"'I cried," she said. "This is terrible, it stinks, and I feel like crying now."

On Sunday, the fallout from the audio initially released by TMZ unfairly swallowed Clippers players, who were never completely focused in a 118-97 loss to the Golden State Warriors that evened their first-round playoff series at two games apiece.

On Tuesday, the fans will be on the spot. For the first time since Sterling purportedly was heard in the audio scolding his girlfriend for bringing black men to his games, the Clippers will host the Warriors at a giant downtown gym turned moral proving ground.

Even if the NBA announces Tuesday morning that it has suspended Sterling for the remainder of the playoffs, there's not enough time to actually wrestle away the team, so the fans who show up at Staples Center will know they are putting money in the pocket of a brazen racist. Yet the fans who do not show up will be failing to support a group of players who desperately need to hear those cheers, and can't one applaud the team without embracing the owner?

One strong recommendation has already been issued from afar.

"If it was me, I wouldn't come to the game," Mark Jackson, the Golden State coach, said to reporters in Oakland. "I believe as fans the loudest statement they could make as far as fans is to not show up at the game."

Easy for him to say. He's not talking about Warriors fans, who filled Oracle Arena on Sunday even though some were surely aware of Sterling's comments. Jackson is urging a boycott by long-suffering Clippers fans who have helped put together an 137-game sellout streak. Jackson is telling people to stay away from what could be the postseason of their dreams, a party that they have already spent thousands of dollars to attend, the reward for years of faith.

What do you do? And what does that say about you?

Those questions are being asked of every Clippers ticket holder, and the answer is magnified when that ticket holder is African American.

"I feel like some little representative for black Clippers season-ticket holders, and it's not easy," Draper said. "There are lots of people telling me to do all kinds of things."

The consensus of her friends is that she should end her previously joyful 13-year relationship immediately.

"Friends are saying I need to forget all about the Clippers and burn all my jerseys and shirt right now," she said. "After all these years, that's a lot of stuff."

Draper has jerseys bearing the names of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Elton Brand and even Corey Maggette. She has Clippers caps, hoodies, warmup jackets and pajama pants. In 13 years of sitting in the corner of the lower bowl, she has made friends for a lifetime. At halftime, many of the die-hards meet on the concourse near the Clippers sales booth and pose for photos together.

"For the longest time we never won, but we were fun to watch and the fans stuck together, and I really felt part of the growth of the team," she said.

And now? After what she described as a "complete and utter nightmare" of a weekend, Draper has made two decisions.

First, she will not boycott any of this year's games, for practical reasons.

"That man already has my money, I paid for my tickets, what good is it for me not to go to the game?" she said. "I've always been a fan of the players, I've never been a fan of Donald Sterling, and I will continue to cheer for the players."

She likes the idea of wearing black shirts to upcoming games. She likes the idea of leaving her once-beloved Clippers gear at home, or turning it inside out like the players did in Oakland on Sunday.

"That makes it strictly about the players," she said.

Second, she will listen to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's news conference Tuesday morning. If Sterling has not been completely erased from the Clippers accounting books, she will pick up the phone and call her season tickets-representative.

Like every Clippers season-ticket holder for next season, she's already given a deposit, plunking down about $1,000 on tickets that eventually will cost about $6,000.

"For Sterling, that's little money, probably stuck somewhere in his couch cushions," she said.

But it's her money. It's her dignity. It's her conscience. It turns out, her choice was actually no choice at all.

"I am going to ask for my money back. I'm going to cancel those season tickets, and I'm never going to another Clipper game as long as Donald Sterling is involved with the team," she said. "He doesn't want his girlfriend bringing black people to the game, and I'm a black person who is paying him money to come to the game? I feel like a fool."

And thus the evil of racism cuts out another piece of the Clippers' heart.

"You don't want me there?" JoLai Draper said in a voice strong enough to be heard by thousands of fans of all colors. "I won't go."

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Twitter: @billplaschke

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Los Angeles ClippersSportsNBAColumnProfessional BasketballDonald SterlingGolden State Warriors
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