Programming note: Coverage of Game 5 between the Warriors and Clippers begins Tuesday night at 7:00 on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area with Warriors Pregame Live. (Channel locations)
Donald Sterling's soulless bigotry is, thank goodness, opening eyes and avenues beyond sports, all across the vast and ever expanding social landscape. It's revolting news, but reintroduces a topic for which, like war or poverty, discussion is essential.
The NBA is fortunate to have in Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Warriors coach Mark Jackson two men who are uniquely equipped to be in and navigate through the eye of this ongoing storm.
Rivers is a former NBA player who has evolved into an accomplished coach with a deep reservoir of respect around the sports world. His reputation is of being thoughtful and rational and polished and about as open as a coach can reasonably be in the 21st century.
He also happens to represent half of an interracial marriage that has lasted 28 years.
Jackson was an excellent player now making generous strides toward being an accomplished coach. He's a willing debater on various topics. His passions can run hot, sometimes uncomfortably so. And he knows a thing or two about being in a compromising situation.
He also happens to be an ordained minister, one half of a marriage between pastors.
Jackson said he already has forgiven Sterling for the alleged comments and hopes this leads to the "healing" of the Clippers' owner and others who share his beliefs.
Though NBA commissioner Adam Silver will announce on Tuesday the league's response to the outburst attributed to Sterling, the coaches will remain daily presences, co-spokesmen, in the spotlight, under the microscope, examined by all.
We can draw our own conclusions, but it would behoove us to observe and listen to Jackson and Rivers. With all due respect to the likes of Don Nelson and Vinny Del Negro – or Keith Smart and Alvin Gentry – Rivers and Jackson are built for crises.
Rivers is moving carefully and with grace, a heavy tone but a light hand. It's evident that he's struggling with a great many things. Coaching a playoff team with championship potential. Explaining to family and friends. Coping with being so gainfully employed – about $7 million per year – by such a conspicuous bigot.
But this new round of racism rips open some old wounds.
"This is a very emotional subject,'' Rivers said Monday, during a conference call. "There's a lot of personal baggage with this subject; things have happened individually to people, to people's families in the past. And all of this stuff comes back out.''
He didn’t specify, but Rivers was talking about himself. About the racism he and then-girlfriend Kris Campion encountered as students at Marquette more than 30 years ago, when their relationship made them targets of hatred. And the hell they went through more than a decade into their marriage, in the late 1990s, when their San Antonio home was reduced to ashes by a ``suspicious'' fire that killed a dog and destroyed most of the family treasures.
Rivers had hoped he was beyond this madness and now he's covered in it. Again.
He has been admirably steady, harnessing his emotions, something that won't be easy for his family. His eldest son, Jeremiah, has issued a number of inspiring tweets.
"They went though this when they were little kids," Rivers said of the four children. "It always goes back to that. They were kids when (the fire) happened. This is personal for them. The subject is personal for them."
Rivers has, according to multiple sources close to him, endured frustrations in his first season in Los Angeles and even pondered walking away. He's devoted to his players, but how to avoid those exasperating moments that trace back to Sterling and his master-slave mentality toward employees?
And Jackson is here to remind us of the Sterling is not alone in his opinions. He's not very judicious and not all nuanced, like so many others in position to hire and fire, issue pay raises or reductions in the workforce.
Wal-Mart has a bad rap, but how many companies are run by greedy, discriminating weasels making self-serving decisions, many of which marginalize or even penalize women and people of color?
So when Jackson mentions with studied frequency that Sterling's predicament is merely a predicament because it's so public, he's speaking only partly as the coach of the team opposing Sterling's Clippers.
Mostly, though, Jackson is seizing upon this moment to make a difference in the lives of those around him or within the sound of his voice. He's speaking as the Rev. Mark from the church he shares with his wife, Desiree, True Love Worship Center International in the San Fernando Valley.
"I believe that some folks are going to be helped and healed by the dialogue that's taking place," Jackson said before the team's Monday practice.
He also believes his co-captain on this mission is more than capable.
"Doc is a tremendous guy that we can trust," Jackson said. "He's going to handle it the right way and make sure that he makes us look good."
When Jackson says "us," I sense he's speaking in the collective – coaches, players, black men, white men, human beings of all races and sexes.