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‘Positive’ dialogue helped change Clippers’ minds about returning to play

Clippers guard Patrick Beverley gestures during a game against the 76ers on March 1, 2020, in Los Angeles.
“Collectively as a team, we just wanted to stay united with every other team here in the bubble,” Clippers guard Patrick Beverley said.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The debate that started in a ballroom meeting late Wednesday night continued in a hallway in the wee hours of Thursday morning at the NBA’s Disney World campus near Orlando, Fla.

The Clippers left the former opposed to continuing the NBA’s postseason. By the early morning, they emerged from the latter ready to join their peers on the court.

That change of position, along with that of the Lakers, who had also joined the Clippers in voting to stop the season, helped put the league’s restart back on course, with games resuming Saturday. Game 6 of the Clippers’ first-round series against Dallas will be played Sunday.

“Collectively as a team, we just wanted to stay united with every other team here in the bubble,” Clippers guard Patrick Beverley said Friday, explaining the change. “And of course the dialogue that we had was between players, players only, but whatever dialogue that was, it came out to be positive.”

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Wednesday’s meeting of players was called after the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for Game 5 of their playoff series against Orlando in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wis., by police. Coaches were invited to attend for a portion of the meeting and three addressed the room, according to Oklahoma City guard and players association president Chris Paul: Houston assistant John Lucas, Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Clippers assistant Armond Hill.

As players who didn’t know of Milwaukee’s plans beforehand debated what to do next and if there was a plan, the meeting “had a lot of anger, a lot of voices, a lot of emotion,” Rivers said.

At one point as Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players’ Assn., discussed potential financial losses from stopping play, Beverley spoke up to disagree, and when she asked to continue the guard cut her off saying, “No, I pay your salary,” according to a Yahoo Sports report. Several Clippers teammates suggested on social media the specific exchange had not happened. On Friday, Beverley termed their exchange a “very interesting conversation,” likening it to a disagreement between family members. It was not the only disagreement of the night, he said.

“You probably have some of the wealthiest African Americans in one room in the country together, and when you get in one room and you get to talk, just like you believe in certain things I might not believe in and vice versa,” Beverley said. “It’s good dialogue, good conversations, which led to action, and we were able to get that action.”

The Forum, purchased in May by Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, will host in-person voting and accept mail-in ballots between Oct. 24 and Nov. 3.

The Clippers and Lakers’ opposition to continuing “wasn’t us saying, ‘We don’t want to play basketball,’ ” Clippers guard Landry Shamet said on a podcast hosted by New Orleans Pelicans guard JJ Redick. “It was simply a poll of what we thought was best to do. I feel like there’s more people that might’ve felt that way but given the setting ... might not have been as blunt and open about, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to play.’ ”

Rivers didn’t fear the season was over Wednesday but felt the vote whether to stay or go was close. He believed players’ emotions — heightened by the isolation of living inside the Disney World property, away from families, for seven weeks — would eventually calm.

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Clippers coach Doc Rivers reacts during Game 4 against Dallas on Aug. 23, 2020.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers didn’t fear the season was over Wednesday but felt the vote whether to stay or go was close.
(Kevin C. Cox / Pool photo via Associated Press)

Clippers players continued talking with one another throughout the night in a hotel hallway. Rivers said he was particularly impressed by the opinions of Lou Williams, Kawhi Leonard and Marcus Morris Sr. Beverley said Rivers, whose emotional address about racism and policing Tuesday quickly went viral, was “at the forefront” of facilitating discussions during the previous 48 hours.

“He’s helped us kind of steer things in the right direction that we need to steer to, and he has knowledge,” Beverley said. “He has a lot of access to doors that me or anybody else might not have access to. He’s able to put out in words that me, as an athlete, that I might not be able to put out. He’s able to put those words out and deliver a message to not only get through to the African American, that gets through to everybody. ”

Even after players voted to stop the NBA postseason Wednesday night, Clippers coach Doc Rivers didn’t believe the season was over.

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Electing to stay and play was the players’ way of leveraging the spotlight and power wielded by the league and ownership, but Beverley acknowledged the next step is to “keep that same attitude” after leaving the bubble. As part of the agreement announced Friday, the league and players committed to establishing a social justice coalition with a focus on promoting civic engagement, voting and police and criminal justice reform.

By Friday morning, the Clippers’ attention returned to basketball during their first practice since the stoppage. They hold a 3-2 series lead entering Sunday’s potential close-out game against Dallas, which will be without center Kristaps Porzingis for the remainder of the series because of a torn lateral meniscus suffered in Game 1.

“At the end of the day it’s not the NBA’s job to solve the world, it’s the NBA’s job to be part of the world, and so I think we’ve accomplished that part, but you still have to do your jobs,” Rivers said. “I think that today may be a tough day … a tough day practice-wise just to get refocused, but I do think that the couple days off will help in that fact, as well.”

Greif reported from Los Angeles.


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