Clippers guard Reddick encountered Sterling's racism early

Clippers guard Reddick encountered Sterling's racism early

Credit: NBAE via Getty Images

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 1: J.J. Redick #4 of the Los Angeles Clippers drives against the Golden State Warriors in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena on May 1, 2014 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

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by SAM AMICK

USA TODAY Sports

Posted on May 5, 2014 at 11:27 AM

Updated Monday, May 5 at 11:27 AM

LOS ANGELES — When the Los Angeles Clippers are old and gray and the time comes to tell their children about the time their basketball world was turned upside down, no two stories will be the same.

Each has his own vantage point. Each has his own emotions. Each has his own response.

But the story about J.J. Redick and his surreal first season with the Clippers captures the Donald Sterling experience as well as anyone's. At 29 years old and having made the calculated choice as a free agent last summer to come play for coach Doc Rivers and this talented team, Redick was exposed to the Sterling dysfunction from the start when his sign-and-trade deal to come to Los Angeles nearly fell apart after his four-year, $27-million deal had been agreed upon.

One of the alleged reasons? Sterling, the man whose racist comments sparked this whole furor, was believed to have had concerns about paying a white player that kind of money. He had once given white center Chris Kaman a five-year, $52 million deal, and how that contract panned out (or didn't, as Kaman played 195 games in the next four years of that deal and was traded to New Orleans with a year and a half left) appeared to be coloring Sterling's judgment on this deal. In a way, it was a mirror-image of the issue that would be front and center 10 months later.

"I've been told both ways: one, that he didn't want to pay me because I was white, and that he didn't want to pay me because I was a bench player," Redick said. "I didn't know (the deal almost fell apart) until after the fact. I just got a weird phone call from Doc on July 4, and I got off the phone and said to my wife, 'Something's going on.' He's like, 'You better play for me (expletive).' And I was like, 'Yeah, that's the plan. We figured this out two days ago, right?'

"And then he just rambled a bit. ... but he never really got into the nuts and bolts of what was happening. And then I got a call about 48 hours later from my agent, and he said, 'We wanted to keep you out of it, but here's what happened.'"

In the days that followed the revealing of the Sterling audiotapes, the question that surrounded the Clippers was this: How did they not know what kind of man they were working for? There was so much evidence of his unseemliness, so many stories about his inappropriate behavior and warped world view.

But as Redick explained, a player doesn't always look any further than the locker room when it comes to deciding who to play for. Rivers had not only signed on as the Clippers' new coach, but was given the reins to the front-office as well. Redick had wanted to play for Rivers for years, and here was his chance.

"I came here for Doc," he said. "I came here for Chris (Paul) and Blake (Griffin). I looked at this as an incredible opportunity for me on the basketball court, but also from a personal standpoint. I looked at this as there were great people in the organization, and it's been backed up by that (during the Sterling situation). I think you've seen that over the last week, regardless of one person's opinion, you've seen that throughout the organization."

Redick, who was close to missing the playoffs entirely because of a back injury that forced him to miss most of the final six weeks of the regular season, did what he was brought here to do in the first round. In Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors, he hit seven of 13 shots (including three three-pointers) for 20 points. He provided the kind of outside threat that, as Rivers said after the game, so often determines how these win-or-go-home games go. He averaged 14.3 points on 45.8% shooting overall for the series and hit 39.0% of his three-pointers. The Clippers won and open the second round 9:30 p.m. ET Monday night at the Oklahoma City Thunder.

But Redick's lasting memory of the first round will be much more meaningful than any three-pointer. He'll remember the day his eyes were opened to racism like never before.

"I said this to someone the other day, (that) in the days after (the Sterling audio was revealed), it was the first time in my life where I was conscientious of the fact that the people I was talking to were black or Asian or Mexican," he said. "I don't look at people like that, so to hear those things come out of someone's mouth, it pisses you off."

A news reporter mentioned how Redick was no stranger to negativity, the kind that he has inspired since his days dominating the college basketball scene as the Duke star that opposing fans loved to hate. But this, as he was quick to point out, is something altogether different.

"It hits you when you see your teammates being emotional, crying (during the Sterling situation)," he said. "It hits you. They're thinking about their parents. They're thinking about their brother or their sister or their kids, and that's when it really hits home.

"I think every day that passes, it gets easier. When (Commissioner) Adam (Silver) made his decision, we were at shoot-around for Game 5, and that was the first time when anybody was kind of like, 'Phew.' And then all of a sudden we're in the locker room five minutes later and somebody tells a joke. I hadn't heard that for three days."

So how long until Sterling is no longer at the forefront of their minds?

"It probably won't go away as long as we continue to advance," he said. "It'll still be part of the story, but it gets easier."

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