Rivers: 'I believe he said those things'

Updated: April 29, 2014, 11:17 AM ET
By Arash Markazi | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Coach Doc Rivers says he turned down an opportunity to speak to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in the wake of the racist remarks allegedly made by Sterling. Rivers also says he believes Sterling made the remarks and that he isn't sure about his future with the team if Sterling remains the owner.

"I was asked, do I need to talk to Donald, and I passed," Rivers said Monday during a nearly 30-minute conference call with reporters. "Quite honestly, I don't think now is the time or the place, for me at least, so I took a pass."

The comments allegedly made by Sterling were to his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, on an audio recording obtained and released by TMZ. The man making the comments urged Stiviano not to bring black friends to "my games."

[+] EnlargeDoc Rivers
AP Photo/Danny MoloshokClippers coach Doc Rivers said on Monday that he isn't sure he would continue working for the team if Donald Sterling remains the owner.

When Rivers was asked if he thought the voice on the recording was Sterling's, he said, "Yeah, I believe he said those things."

"I still want to make sure it hasn't been doctored, but 'yes' is the answer," he said. "As far as believing those things, I heard what he said. Until someone tells me differently, you usually listen to what people say. I haven't given him his due process. I haven't given him an opportunity to explain himself and quite honestly right now don't want him to, or don't want him to to me. I'll wait for that further judgment."

Rivers said he isn't sure he could continue being the team's coach and executive vice president of player personnel with Sterling as the owner.

"For me, I honestly don't even want to answer that question, because I don't know," Rivers said. "This just happened. ... I don't want to be part of this story. I don't have an answer one way or the other on that. We'll just wait and see."

Rivers canceled practice Monday, the day after the Clippers lost Game 4 of their first-round series against the Golden State Warriors 118-97. He met not only with players but also several other members of the organization at the team's Playa Vista headquarters.

"These last 48 hours or more have been really hard for our players and for everyone," Rivers said. "I would just like to reiterate how disappointed I am in the comments attributed to our owner, and I can't tell you how upset I am and our players are. Today I had a meeting with people in our organization because I just felt they needed to hear a voice as well. When you're around all these people, you realize they are just as upset and embarrassed, and it doesn't reflect who they really are.

"That's the thing I got from all of them. They didn't sign on for this, but they're a part of this. They're upset at this, but they're going to hang in there, and so are we as a group and as a team. I have to do a better job with our guys and get them back. From our fans' standpoint, being here for the past 10 hours since we landed, they've been amazing. We need them. I can tell you that. We need unbelievable support right now from other people, and we're hoping we get that tomorrow."

Rivers said he slept for about 45 minutes before Sunday's Game 4 and canceled Monday's practice because players needed a day off to be with their friends and families, although most of the players came to the facility anyway.

"I felt like they needed to breathe," Rivers said. "They've been inundated with this. They've really had no time with their families. I just think they need time. In most cases we'd be practicing and on the floor today. I'm at the facility, and 95 percent or almost all of the players are here anyway. I'll go down and say hi to them and talk to them and make sure they're in the right place.

"Right now it's more than just basketball. This is a non-basketball decision that I thought I had to make, and I thought it was the right decision. If you get your life better, then you can probably do your work better, and I think they needed to do that."

This isn't the first time Sterling has been involved in racial controversy. In November 2009, he agreed to pay $2.725 million to settle allegations that he discriminated against African-Americans, Hispanics and families with children at several apartment buildings he owns in and around Los Angeles.

Rivers said he wasn't sure why the league didn't punish Sterling then but is confident it will now.

"Clearly there are things that have happened, but I don't know what they could have done in the past, but I know now there seems to be proof that they can do something," Rivers said. "I'm not worried about the past. I'm worried about now and how we can handle this, and I think this is going to be handled the right way.

"I really have a lot of faith in Adam [Silver] and the league, and I think it needs to be handled in the right way. I don't even know what the right way is. I have a hunch, but I don't know."

The league scheduled a news conference for Tuesday around the same time the Clippers were scheduled to conduct their game-day shootaround.

"This is a very important decision and I hope it's a very strong message, and I believe that it will be," Rivers said. "I'm going to let the league do what it needs to do and then after that the players and myself will have a reaction."

Eric Miller, the Clippers' director of basketball operations and Sterling's son-in-law, called the comments "deplorable and disgusting."

"I find the statements and representations made by the Clippers' team owner to be deplorable and disgusting," Miller told TMZ. "There is no room in sports or society in general for racism."

"I pledge my full support for the wonderful players, coaches and staff members of the Clippers organization," Miller continued. "I have complete faith that Commissioner Silver will deal with this matter swiftly and severely. If these comments should happen to cost me my employment with the team, it is but a small price to pay to speak out against ignorance and racism."

Several players, including Chris Paul, said they weren't sure what fan reaction would be like at Staples Center for Game 5. Rivers was no different, saying he would understand if some did not want to come but that he hoped fans would support the team as they have done all season.

"I wish I could help people more in this in trying to decide what the right thing is, I really do, but I was just sitting here last night thinking, I don't [have] the answer, and I'm just being honest with you," Rivers said. "What I hope is whatever the fans do, it's as one group. Do it. Be one. I don't even know if that's the right thing, but I think it is.

"The fans are in a dilemma as well. We want them to cheer for their players and their team because it's still their team. From what I got from the fans that I talked to, that's how they feel: 'This is my team and these are my players that I'm cheering for, and that's not going to change,' and I hope that continues."

Rivers said the team is considering having one or more players address the crowd before the game.

"I don't know which way we'll go with that," he said. "We don't know the right answer. We want to do right here. We want to make the right decisions here and we're doing our very best to try to do that, and if we feel like that is something that will help our fans, then it will be done. If we feel it's something they don't need, we won't do it."

Rivers was careful not to blame Sunday's loss on the controversy but said "it had an impact, there's no doubt."

"We all have the feeling of, 'What do you do?' and 'What's the right thing to do?'" Rivers said. "Even to the point of should you play or not, all those things have been talked about by all of us, and those thoughts come across. It's tough to compete in a playoff series when you have any of those thoughts.

"I sympathize with my players. They didn't sign up for this yet here they are. They are in the middle of it, and they have to deal with it. What bothers me the most is they're getting attacked in some ways and they didn't do anything wrong."

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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