Fans Rally Outside Staples Center To Support Clippers

LA Clippers fans have always supported their team, if not its owner Donald Sterling. We check in with people outside the Staples Center, where the Clippers played Golden State in the NBA playoffs.

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On the day their owner was banned for life from pro-basketball, the L.A. Clippers played a big game. Donald Sterling could not attend, part of his penalty for racist remarks caught on tape. Fans, though, showed up in force to last night's playoff against the Golden State Warriors.

Here's NPR's Sam Sanders.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Ahhh, Staples Center on game day. The sun shining brightly in downtown Los Angeles. Palm trees lining the streets to the stadium. And one more thing at this game: Protests.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No justice.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: No peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No justice.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: No peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No justice.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: No peace.

SANDERS: The LA chapter of Al Sharpton's National Action Network organized a rally, with the NAACP and some other groups, right outside the stadium before the game. It was called the Los Angeles is Better than Donald Sterling Anti-Racism Protest and Rally.

Activist Najee Ali was one of the first to take the loudspeaker.

NAJEE ALI: Everyone's been calling me asking me, is the protest cancelled. Nothing is cancelled. We're still going to march for justice.

SANDERS: Ali was acknowledging that a protest at this point was a lot less necessary than it may have been a few days ago. Just hours before, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver slapped Donald Sterling with a $2.5 million fine, said he's working to get owners in the league to force Sterling to sell the team, and banned Sterling from NBA events for life.

But, protesters wanted more.

MOLLY BELL: My name is Molly Bell and I'm straight out of Compton.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SANDERS: Protester Molly Bell says L.A.'s black community has been vital to the Clippers.

BELL: You know who made the Clippers continue to play all these years: Black folks. We came out here when nobody else was here. They came and bought buses...

SANDERS: Bell says the Clippers bussed in black fans from Compton and Watts for years, to keep the seats filled back when the Clippers weren't so good. But she says, after hearing Sterling tell his girlfriend not to bring black people to Clippers games, she wants no part of the team.

BELL: Duh. If you don't want me there, why would I go?

JAY GROSSMAN: I think fans should be coming to the game to support the Clippers.

SANDERS: That's Jay Grossman, a fan heading into the game.

GROSSMAN: 'Cause it's not anyone else's fault but Donald Sterling. And fans should still support the Clippers, no matter what the owner does.

SANDERS: Another fan, Joe Crew, walked into the stadium with his Clippers jersey inside out. Crew says he's been through a whirlwind of emotion.

JOE CREW: Started off as, like, anger that people were questioning me. You know, what it said of me being a season ticketholder for the Clippers. Started of defensive, and then it just morphed into sadness. It's emotional for everyone.

SANDERS: Inside the Staples Center, the emotion was positive. When the team walked on the court, the sold-out stadium erupted with cheers.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND MUSIC)

SANDERS: Throughout the game, the crowd kept repeating what might soon become the Clippers new signature chant: We Are One.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: We are one. We are one. We are one.

SANDERS: The Clippers beat the Golden State Warriors, 113-to-103. They now lead the playoff series, three-to-two. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said the fans were a big part of the victory.

DOC RIVERS: They're awesome. I mean that was as good as I've ever seen. I mean they're unbelievable. You know, you think it's just the players. It was the fans too. You know, everybody was going through this. And it was almost like everybody wanted to exhale tonight.

SANDERS: What better way to exhale, than to win.

Sam Sanders, NPR News.

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