The ownership transition from Donald Sterling to Steve Ballmer has come with some noticeable improvements for the Clippers.
“We’ve had no controversy,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Friday, laughing. “It’s been a controversy-free year for the most part except for our play.”
That the focus could remain on the court is a big plus for a franchise that was rocked one year ago Saturday when audio tapes of Sterling making incendiary racial comments became public.
The NBA banned Sterling for life a few days later and forced him to sell the team he had owned for more than three decades. Enter Ballmer, the Microsoft executive who vowed to be hardcore in every aspect of ownership.
That has certainly been the case in the community, where the Clippers have increased their involvement in recent months. Among the initiatives the Clippers have implemented were the reopening of a refurbished Boys & Girls Club in Watts, a mentorship program in which players speak with kids in small discussion groups and several basketball clinics and school visits.
“They’ve gotten involved in the community more and I think that’s what we should do and I’ve pushed it and now you don’t have to push it,” Rivers said. “It’s been great.”
Rivers said he was pleased to see the franchise honor former longtime General Manager Elgin Baylor during Game 2 of the Clippers’ first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs. Rivers said he would also like the Clippers to pay tribute to the Buffalo Braves, their predecessors before the franchise moved to San Diego and then Los Angeles.
“We have to do more,” Rivers said. “We have to because we don’t have a history like this organization [the Spurs] and other organizations and we have to try to grow one.”
Letting it go
Rivers lied. He isn’t really going to launch an investigation into DeAndre Jordan not being selected the NBA’s defensive player of the year as he had vowed in March.
“No, because I know who the voters were,” Rivers said of a selection process that involved a public disclosure of media votes. “How can you get mad at those guys?”
Jordan finished third in the voting, behind winner Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs and runner-up Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors.
“I finished third last year [too], so it was cool,” Jordan said dryly. “I guess I need to improve a lot.”
Jordan seemed irritated by what he perceived as a snub last season but said the only thing he cared about now was a championship.
“At this point, I don’t care about it anymore,” Jordan said of individual awards. “If it happens, it happens, and I’ll be happy, but if not, I’m not going to lose sleep over it. Maybe before, but now it’s kind of like, as long as I have the respect and things from my coaches, my peers around the league, that’s the only thing that really matters.”
Rivers disagreed with Lakers legend Magic Johnson’s assessment of the Clippers on social media from Game 2.
“The Clippers’ lack of mental toughness and costly turnovers are the reasons they lost the game tonight,” Johnson tweeted after a late Blake Griffin turnover contributed to the Spurs’ 111-107 overtime victory Wednesday.
Rivers contended his team showed grit by wiping out a 10-point deficit with 6 1/2 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
“We were actually the team that came back and then we gave it up at the end, but we came back in that game,” Rivers said. “So I think if anybody showed mental toughness, it was us — and them, they’re going to have it. They, again, are champions. They’re not going anywhere, they’re not going to be shaken.”
Clippers point guard Chris Paul didn’t seem bothered by Johnson questioning his team.
“I saw Magic at Sunday brunch last week, you know what I mean?” Paul said.