Roger Mason Jr. has never been an NBA star, but he's important for another reason: Mason is vice-president of the National Basketball Players Association (NBAPA), the labor union that reps NBA players.
So when he speaks, you'd better listen, especially when he says NBA players — including none other than LeBron James — are prepared to strike next season if the disgraced Donald Sterling still owns the Los Angeles Clippers.
"I was just in the locker room three or four days ago. LeBron and I talked about it," Mason said in an interview with Showtime's Jim Rome that is set to air Wednesday night. "He ain’t playing if Sterling is still an owner.”
But that's not all. Mason said other NBA superstars are also prepared to boycott.
"At the end of the day, you know we have leaders," Mason said, according to a Showtime press release. "We have player reps, we’ve got executive committee members … Leaders of the teams, they’re all saying the same thing, ‘If this man is still in place, we ain’t playing.'”
And that also goes for Shelly Sterling, Donald's wife, who says she will fight to keep her stake in the Clippers if NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is successful in leading a forced sale of the team by her husband.
“No Sterling deserves to be an owner of that franchise any longer,” Mason said. “And I’ve gone down the line from LeBron to the other guys in the league that I’ve talked to and they all feel the same way. There’s no place for that family in the NBA.”
Sterling became a subject of national scorn after an audio recording of him making a string of racist comments was leaked to the press late last month. In his first public comments since then, Sterling told CNN's Anderson Cooper that he was "baited" into making a "terrible mistake." Shelly, meanwhile, told Barbara Walters that she believes her husband has dementia.
In the original audio recording that was leaked, Sterling said African-Americans, including NBA legend and Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson, are not welcome at his games. Sterling somewhat bizarrely doubled down on his criticism of Johnson while speaking to Cooper, saying the NBA star is a bad role model because he "has AIDS" (Johnson has been HIV-positive since 1991, but his disease has not progressed to full-blown AIDS), and hasn't done all he could to help minorities since achieving his own success.
While Sterling's views have only recently been thrust into the mainstream national spotlight, he's long been reviled by many NBA fans who perceive him as a racist, a slum lord and a deadbeat owner. The leaked audio recordings, however, provided the most explosive, damning and irrefutable evidence to date.
For his part, Johnson called the situation "sad," and said in a Tuesday interview with CNN that he's "going to pray" for Sterling. Johnson also called for Sterling to have his ownership of the team revoked. Many speculate an ownership group led by Johnson could be among the frontrunners to buy the Clippers — expected to fetch a billion-dollar price tag — should Sterling be ousted.
Silver banned Sterling from NBA activities for life on May 12. He also believes he can get 75% of the NBA's 30 owners, as required by league rules, to vote to force Sterling to sell. But legal analysts say the Sterlings could mount beefy (not to mention pricey and lengthy) legal battles of their own, should he decide to drag this out until the bitter end.
Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski says the NBA deserves to have its name dragged through the mud a bit for letting Sterling quietly hold on to the Clippers for years, despite calls from many fans for him to be kicked out of the association. But the fact that Sterling has dominated the news cycle during an exceptional NBA post-season is a sad one for fans of the game — and sports in general.
LeBron James, for example, scored a jaw-dropping 49 points in a Monday night playoff game against the Nets in Brooklyn, with Jay Z and Beyonce sitting courtside. However, fans might not be able to watch James — not to mention other stars — at all next season if the league is unable to oust Sterling posthaste.
Talk about a basketball buzz-kill.