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Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Monday he believes owner Donald Sterling made the racial comments attributed to him in a controversy that has drawn worldwide scorn, and he is considering his own future with the franchise.
Rivers, who signed a three-year, $21 million contract last summer to become the Clippers coach and vice president of basketball operations, said he's unsure whether he'll return to the team if Sterling remains owner.
"I don't want to answer that question," Rivers said. "I don't know. This just happened."
The NBA has scheduled a news conference for 2 p.m. ET Tuesday to discuss details of its investigation into the audio recordings published by TMZ and Deadspin in which Sterling is alleged to have said that he doesn't want the woman on tape entified as V. Stiviano ࢲinging black people to games.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Saturday the league's constitution allows it wide-ranging power to levy a variety of sanctions against Sterling, but he has not specified the possible punishment Sterling could be facing.
"This is a very important decision," Rivers said. "I hope it's a very strong message, and I believe that it will be. Other than that, I am going to let the league do what it needs to do."
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Doc Rivers is in the first season of a three-year contract with the Clippers. (AP)
Rivers said he believes Sterling did say the alleged comments d also believes Sterling meant what was said.
"Yeah, I believe he said those things," Rivers said. "But I still want to make sure [the tape] hasn't been doctored. But, yes, is the answer. As far as believing those things, I heard what he said. Until someone says something differently, you usually listen to what people say.
"I haven't given him due process. I haven't given him an opportunity to explain himself. And quite honestly, I don't want him to or want him [to explain] to me. I'll wait for that further judgment."
Rivers said he was offered an opportunity to speak with Sterling.
He quickly declined.
"I have been asked if I need to talk to him, with Donald, and I passed, quite honestly," Rivers said. "I don't think right now is the time or the place for me, at least. So I just took a pass."
Sterling's estranged wife Rochelle also released a statement in which she attributed the statements to Sterling.
''Our family is devastated by the racist comments made by my estranged husband,'' Rochelle Sterling said in a statement to KABC-TV in Los Angeles. ''My children and I do not share these despicable views or prejudices. We will not let one man's small mindedness poison the spirit of the fans and accomplishments of the team in the city we love. We are doing everything in our power to stand by and support our Clippers team.''
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Several of Sterling's fellow owners have publicly denounced the comments, including the Charlotte Bobcats' Michael Jordan, Atlanta Hawks' Bruce Levenson and Philadelphia 76ers' Josh Harris. Multiple companies, including CarMax, also announced they are ending or pausing their sponsorships with the Clippers.
Rivers spoke Monday during a nearly 30-minute conference call in which every question was focused on Sterling. The Clippers play host to the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series Tuesday night at Staples Center.
Rivers gave the Clippers players Monday off from practicing and speaking to the media, but said all of them still came to the practice facility. He said it was a "non-basketball decision" to not have practice. Rivers also said he met with members of the Clippers' basketball operations and public relations staff and they were "just as upset."
Clippers players wore their warm-up tops inside-out in a protest during Game 4. (AP)
Clippers players have been criticized by some for continuing to play while the league conducts its investigation. That's bothered Rivers, who said the players have been "attacked," despite not doing anything wrong.
"I just felt like they needed to breathe," Rivers said of his reason for canceling practice. "They have really had no time with their families. I just think they need time. Obviously, in most cases we would be practicing on the floor and doing stuff today."
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Some Clippers players have acknowledged the controversy affected how they played in Sunday's Game 4 loss. Rivers said he slept only 45 minutes before Game 4.
The Clippers players wore their shooting shirts inside-out before, during and after the game and tossed aside their warm-up jackets with "Clippers" on the front. The players have considered making a stronger statement in Game 5, sources said, but that was before the NBA announced Tuesday's news conference.
Rivers is uncertain how the team will respond in Game 5.
"After [Game 4], I was thinking, 'Wow, we have 48 more hours.' But I'm not sure now. I'm not sure if it's gotten worse because there is more thought," Rivers said. "And I don't blame them one way or the other, and I can't. It would be so much [better] as a coach if there were something else to get on them about. 'Hey man, we have to have our focus.' But this is a tough one. We're trying to make the best of it."
Rivers said some of his players are dealing with racism and "real-life situations" for the first time in their young lives. Clippers forward Matt Barnes was fined by the NBA early this season for using the N-word on Twitter, and later said he would continue to use it.
Rivers said he declined an opportunity to meet with Sterling. (AP)
"They haven't [dealt with racism]," Rivers said. "They've seen movies. They've heard from their parents. We had a debate earlier in the year as a group on the 'N-word' and how it should be used. [Assistant coach] Armond Hill, who has been with me forever, shared to them all the reasons why that word is so offensive to him. He said it used to be used against him in public.
"It's funny. The players got that and they had their say. Listen, this is not anything anybody wants to go through. This is never good for anyone. Having said that, they'll grow from this."
Rivers said Clippers fans have been "unbelievable" since he has returned to Los Angeles after Game 4. Warriors coach Mark Jackson said Clippers fans should protest Sterling by boycotting Game 5. Rivers said Jackson was entitled to his opinion, but he didn't share it.
Rivers wasn't comfortable recommending how Clippers fans should react Tuesday, but he hoped for great fan support. Rivers said there have been organizational discussions about whether he and or a player should talk to the fans before the game.
"What I hope is that whatever the fans do, it's as one group," Rivers said. "Do it. Be one."
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Doc Rivers said his wife and four children, including New Orleans Pelicans guard Austin Rivers, are sensitive to racism after having their San Antonio home burned down in 1997.
"They went through this and they were little kids," Rivers said. "It's amazing. Whenever something in the racism area comes up when it's close with us family-wise, it always goes back to that for them. They were kids when that happened. They are very emotional about this stuff."
And Rivers said perhaps that's the most positive thing to come from the controversy: The nation is engaged in a dialogue about racism.
"My belief is the longer we win, the more we keep talking about this, and I think that's all good," he said.
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