The Los Angeles Clippers voiced their support for the NBA’s lifetime ban imposed on Donald Sterling, but the team’s players and coaches sympathized with the owner’s wife.
Shortly after the league punished Sterling for making racist remarks to his mistress, the team said in a statement that it “wholeheartedly support[s] and embrace[s] the decision,” which was handed down hours before the Clippers’ home playoff game against the Golden State Warriors.
The decision made matters even more awkward for Sterling’s wife, Shelly Sterling, who can typically be found courtside at the Staples Center for the Clippers’ home games.
But in the wake of the NBA’s punishment, Shelly Sterling watched the game from a luxury suite. ESPN reported that she was flanked by a “handful of bodyguards” and exited the Staples Center immediately after the game ended.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he gave his blessing when she asked if it would be appropriate to attend the game.
“It’s a tough one for Shelly, really,” Rivers said, as quoted by ESPN. “She didn’t do anything wrong. You have compassion for her. I kept hearing about the girlfriend, and Shelly’s the wife. You know what I mean? I talked to her today, and she’s been through as much as anyone as well. She asked if she could come, which I thought was a very nice gesture, and she just wanted the players to know that she loved them and she told me to tell them. I thought why not?”
Shelly Sterling sat courtside for Sunday’s game between the Clippers and Warriors in Oakland, mere days after a recording of her husband making racist comments ignited a nationwide firestorm. She denounced those comments on Sunday, telling ESPN that she’s “not a racist.”
Clippers superstar Chris Paul said he had no qualms with her attending Tuesday night’s home game.
“Coach talked about it in our locker room how I’m sure it’s been tough on her also,” Paul said, according to ESPN. “She came to our game to support us in Golden State, and for us it’s tough, but I can’t imagine how tough it is for that family so we’ll let them get through that. I think the biggest thing for us is getting back to basketball and doing what we love.”
The Clippers won the game to take a 3-2 lead in the first round playoff series after receiving an emotional ovation from the home crowd.