OAKLAND – It's no longer simply the Warriors playing the Clippers in a first-round NBA playoff series. It's now Warriors vs. Team Bigot.
It's the Warriors vs. the Clippers AND the despicable man who signs the paychecks in Los Angeles.
A recording of a male voice alleged to be Clippers owner Donald Sterling re-reminding the world that he's an unapologetic racist is the bombshell that resulted in a mushroom cloud of anguish hanging over this series and, moreover, upon the Clippers as a franchise.
And the cloud is particularly thick for the men who wear the jersey – even as the recording continues to be studied and investigated by the NBA.
This series has soared beyond the realm of sport. It has moved at warp speed into the court of public perception, where anyone with the slightest awareness of Sterling's disgraceful history most assuredly presumes guilt.
And that includes the players on his team, who face the dilemma of representing Sterling's brand or sacrificing dreams. The Clippers discussed boycotting, but as of now have decided against it. Even in an era when cash trumps conviction, it couldn't be an easy call.
"I'm not in that position," Warriors coach and former Clippers player Mark Jackson said Saturday morning. "That's their fight. That's the uniform that they wear.
"From my standpoint, it's important for me to let it be known that it's unacceptable. It's unfortunate and I'm disappointed in the statements. There's no place for it.''
I don't blame the Clippers for wanting to boycott. Yet play they must. Otherwise, they expose themselves as hypocrites after signing a contract with a known bigot, only to express disassociation when his bigotry explodes in your face.
But assuming the Clippers take the court on Sunday for Game 4 at Oracle Arena, how committed to giving their all can the likes of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan be with freshly broken glass in their bellies?
Sterling, though, is a man defined as much by his long history of bigotry as his proud ownership of a perennial loser. He has paid out millions to settle lawsuits filed because of his discriminatory behavior toward people of color. He has done and said things, sickening things, which leave nothing to the imagination.
"I don't know if I'm surprised by or not," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Saturday. "I didn't like the comments, obviously."
Rivers' boss is a pig that happens to be obscenely wealthy. He's not the only one in sports or elsewhere in society, though most hide behind prudency in public. Still, we live in an age when the line between private and public has never been thinner.
In the years since former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott casually spouted off racist and sexist and homophobic ramblings – her indiscretion rattling the nerves of baseball's closet bigots – faded from prominence and died, no one in sports has had a tighter, fiercer grip on the baton for hate and intolerance than Donald Sterling.
Former commissioner David Stern knew this and took no punitive action.
Sterling's players knew that – or, at the very least, had some idea – and kept playing and taking his money.
None wanted to talk about the owner on Saturday. I understand. They're basketball players and, as such, realize the danger of straying into social commentary or criticizing the man who signs their impressive paychecks.
A few million dollars is one way to buy off a man's principles, or have them bury them under multiple cars and homes.
But because there is a new chapter to Sterling's sordid story, a lot of high-profile folks are expressing a new awareness. Most of them are, of course, former players.
Magic Johnson says he and his wife, Cookie, won't be attending any more Clippers games as long as Sterling is the owner. Kevin Johnson, the former Cal star and current mayor of Sacramento, described the comments allegedly attributed to Sterling as, "reprehensible and unacceptable." Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley is urging the NBA to fine and suspend Sterling.
That'll be up to commissioner Adam Silver, in his third month on the job.
No matter Silver's call, this series has a dramatic new storyline. And it gives the Warriors a few more fans.