About 100 people gathered outside Staples Center on Tuesday to celebrate the NBA commissioner’s decision to impose a lifetime ban and a hefty fine on Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
But the tone of the celebration felt more like a protest, at times, as activists yelled from a bullhorn and the crowd chanted: “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
Earlier in the day, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver handed down a stern punishment to Sterling after an audio recording said to be of him chastising friend V. Stiviano for posting pictures that included black people was made public.
In a news conference, Silver said he will seek to force out Sterling as an owner of an NBA franchise. Several organizations had already planned to protest Tuesday’s NBA playoffs.
After the commissioner’s ruling was handed down, the Staples Center crowd decided to turn the gathering into a victory rally. Community activist Najee Ali said that although the punishment seemed fair and swift, the group cannot lose sight that Sterling still owns the Clippers.
“We have to keep applying pressure on the whole process,” Ali said. “As an activist, we never let up until we get complete victory. The fight is not over until the team is sold.”
On the way to the game, Kathy Kusner, 74, and George Myers, 73, wore matching black shirts that had the Clippers logo with “Clip Him” written across the front.
The back of the shirts had a "-1" under Sterling’s name. The couple praised Silver for taking the unprecedented step of banning Sterling.
“There is a chance that this can change more than just with the Clippers,” Kusner said. “This could be a nice big step in how we think about race and equality.”
Many fans carried signs denouncing Sterling and supporting the players. Some wore Clippers jerseys inside out, mimicking a move the players made in their last game.
Husband and wife Jonathan and Brittany Brandon said Tuesday’s game was their first NBA game. The Clippers fans bought their playoff tickets before the Sterling news broke.
“We said, ‘What do we do?’ We decided we would take a stand,” Brittany Brandon, 25, said. “There’s no room for racism.”
The couple, from Bakersfield, said they were there Tuesday to support the players. They held two signs as they waited outside Staples Center, one that read “ONE TEAM ONE GOAL,” the other “MAGIC 4 OWNER.”
Magic Johnson becoming the team’s owner would be “great vindication,” Brittany Brandon said, considering that the remarks attributed to Sterling came after Stiviano posted a picture of the NBA legend on Instagram.
“Who better to run it?” she said. “He’s the face of L.A.,” Johnathan Brandon added.
Los Angeles police said they too hoped the NBA decision would have a positive effect on the demonstration taking place before the Clippers face the Golden State Warriors in a playoff game.
LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith declined to specify how officers would be deployed, citing security, but said the department would be prepared.
“We always hope for the best and plan for whatever eventualities occur,” he said. “I think in terms of the crowd and crowd management, I think that the actions taken by the NBA today were a positive step for us in our planning.”
Earlier Tuesday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck urged those planning to attend the demonstration to keep things peaceful and friendly.
“The bad behavior by Donald Sterling does not justify bad behavior on the part of the community,” Beck told reporters. “Let’s respect a great team, not a great owner.... Remember that it’s the guys on the court, not the guy in the owner’s box,” who matter.
Sterling has remained silent.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and various NBA stars -- including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Steve Nash -- gathered on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday to applaud the sanctions.
“Today, we feel like justice has begun to be served,” Garcetti said, thanking Silver for “bringing down the hammer” on Sterling.
Kevin Johnson, a former NBA player and representative of the National Basketball Players Assn., also praised the action, saying it delivered “a statement about where we are as a country.”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional basketball player, or a man or a woman who works hard for your family, there will be zero tolerance for institutional racism, no matter how rich or powerful” someone is, he said.