Former Notre Dame players react to NBA ban

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

Scrambling to hold on to an NBA dream that was slipping away, former Notre Dame power forward Ryan Humphrey gave little thought that fall day in 2006 to meeting the owner of the team he was trying to make.

The team was the Los Angeles Clippers. The owner was Donald Sterling, who on Tuesday was issued a lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stemming from “deeply disturbing and harmful” racial comments that became public late Friday.

Even before Humphrey’s dream took him to Southern California, he heard rumblings about Sterling’s attitude toward minorities.

But ...

“It didn’t affect me,” Humphrey said Tuesday evening from his hometown of Tulsa, Okla. “I was more focused on trying to make the team.”

Humphrey accompanied the Clippers to Russia in October 2006 as part of NBA Europe Live. That’s where he first met Sterling, but because Humphrey didn’t factor much in the team’s plans — he wasn’t a main guy with a big contract and wasn’t going to be on the final roster — the two had too little in common.

Humphrey wasn’t surprised when reports surfaced late last week of Sterling’s attitude toward minorities.

“It wasn’t accidental those tapes were made,” said Humphrey, who spent eight years playing professionally overseas before retiring last fall. “That just shows who really is. It’s sad that it’s 2014 and people still feel that way.”

Austin Carr, the greatest player to ever wear a Notre Dame basketball uniform, met Tuesday’s news with mixed emotions.

On one hand, he was happy to hear Silver, who has been on the job all of three months, impose such a harsh penalty on Sterling.

“The league is in good hands with Adam Silver,” Carr said by cell phone late Tuesday afternoon. “That press conference was over after about four questions. He left no stone unturned. He left no gray areas.”

Still, there remain too many issues that are black and white in the NBA, which prides itself on being a global game without basketball borders.

Carr struggles with the notion that the color of a person’s skin remains such a problem for some. And, unfortunately, for many.

“It definitely gives you a sad feeling about where society is in 2014,” Carr said. “But there’s no way in getting around it – there’s always going to be racism. You’re always going to have it. You aren’t ever going to eliminate it.”

Former Notre Dame assistant coach Gene Cross also was disheartened by Sterling’s comments, but not at all surprised.

“As a person of color, you witness racism on a daily basis,” said Cross, who spent the last two seasons as head coach of the Erie (Pa.) BayHawks, the NBA Development League affiliate of the New York Knicks. “The majority of people in this world are good, but there still are people who believe what Donald Sterling believes. This just got out publicly, but as sure as I sit here today, there are people of power in the world today who have the same beliefs.

“We’ve come so far, but we’ve still got a long ways to go.”

Cross became a bit emotional Tuesday while watching Silver speak of how he would work with NBA owners to force Sterling into selling the franchise.

“Just to have someone standing side-by-side with you to prevent an injustice is pretty powerful,” Cross said.

The Clippers entered their best-of-seven first round playoff series late Tuesday tied with the Golden State Warriors at two wins each. Following Silver’s announcement, a simple message appeared on the Clippers’ web site.

“We are one.”

Sterling’s comments — he asked a girlfriend “not to bring any blacks” to his Clippers games, and didn’t want her seen with NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson — surfaced on TMZ less than 48 hours before Sunday’s Game 3. It was a game the Clippers were rarely in before losing 118-97.

How the Clippers managed to work through those 48 minutes, Carr couldn’t fathom. He knew there was no way they could have the playoff-level intensity and focus.

And they didn’t.

“No way would I have been ready,” said Carr, still the all-time leading scorer in Notre Dame history (2,560). “I hated to watch the players be affected by it.”

Cross empathized with Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who already had to deal with myriad distractions during playoff time. Getting his players to separate their personal feelings about the man who owns the team and play?

There’s no chapter in the coach’s handbook for that one.

“I can’t even imagine what it was like to prep a team like that,” Cross said.

If anyone can help the Clippers navigate through their emotions, Humphrey said, it’s Rivers. A first-round pick by the Utah Jazz in 2002, Humphrey was traded on draft night to Orlando. The Magic coach? Doc Rivers.

“Doc Rivers is first class,” Humphrey said. “Doc Rivers has done a great job being the lone voice of the team.”

As a television color commentator and director of community relations for the Cleveland Cavaliers — he’s still known around northeastern Ohio as “Mr. Cavalier” — Carr routinely visits Staples Center. There he would see Sterling at his customary courtside seat. The paths of the two never crossed, which was partly Carr’s choosing.

“You looked at him, saw how he shook hands only with certain people and could tell there wasn’t something right,” Carr said. “He didn’t seem very friendly to me.

“I’m happy that (Sterling) has been exposed and we can put this behind us.”

TNoie@SBTinfo.com

574-235-6153

Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Former Notre Dame stars Austin Carr (left) and Ryan Humphrey. (SBT File Photos)
FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2010, file photo, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, right, and V. Stiviano, left, watch the Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is intent on moving quickly in dealing with the racially charged scandal surrounding Clippers owner Sterling. The NBA league will discuss its investigation Tuesday, April 29, 2014, before the Clippers play Golden State in Game 5 of their playoff series. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok, File)