PHILADELPHIA — Aside from a mutual respect and professional kinship between the athletes, the NBA and NHL rarely cross paths, especially at this time of year. Then all Donald Sterling broke loose.
So on the morning of a potential playoff elimination game for their Flyers team, Wayne Simmonds and Ray Emery were asked to chime in on sports’ hottest and most distasteful story of the week.
To their credit, they didn’t let the importance of the story escape them, no matter how urgent this work day was.
“I definitely think the league has to protect itself from people like that,” Emery said of Sterling, “and kind of make an example of a guy like that.”
The NBA would do just that Tuesday, as Commissioner Adam Silver levied a lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine, the maximum allowed under the league contract, on the Los Angeles Clippers owner for racially charged quotes on a recording attributed to him released last week.
Some three hours before Silver’s press conference Tuesday, Simmonds voiced his feelings as a black athlete on the story that seems so out of place in 2014. Or does it?
“Not really,” Simmonds said. “You’d like to say yeah, but I’ve had enough things happen to me and seen enough things in this world, that nothing shocks me now.”
A rising NHL star, Simmonds has often been dragged into incidents or discussions of racism in sports. Perhaps that’s because he’s always so eloquent on the subject.
“You want the owner of your team to stand behind you and have faith in you, not to have that kind of outlook on life,” he said. “(But) you can’t really change someone’s opinion.”
Asked his opinion on whether he would have a problem playing for an owner such as Sterling, Simmonds immediately answered, “Definitely, 100 percent.”
Scores of players in the NBA agreed, and made their opinions public in recent days. The impact from Sterling’s words was such that Silver’s punishment would be swift and harsh.
Sixers owner Josh Harris released a statement after the press conference saying his organization “completely support(s) NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.”
“As I have previously stated, there is no place for any type of discrimination in our society,” Harris’ statement read, “and those hurtful and ignorant comments are contrary to the core values and beliefs of our ownership group and organization.”
The comments attributed to Sterling were made public over two separate websites in recent days.
“I listened to it,” Emery said. “It was disappointing and it was distasteful. (They were) pretty racist comments he had. ... I don’t think a person like that has a place in sports. But it’s not my decision.”
Though Silver’s lifetime ban decree generally came as a surprise, Simmonds had suggested earlier in the day that’s exactly what Sterling deserved.
“Make him sell the team, get him out of there,” Simmonds said. “Obviously, basketball is predominantly a black sport. You have an owner voicing his opinion that way ... (and) the coach is black, probably a lot of people in management (too).
“I’ve heard he’s had people in management quit because of his opinions. It’s really unfortunate. We live in a world like today where there should be no color. You judge a person by their inside and not by the way they look, their appearance. It just sucks the way it is right now.”
Simmonds has had to deal with fallout of at least two racial incidents since he’s joined the Flyers. One came in London, Ontario, in September 2011, when a fan threw a banana on the ice during a Flyers exhibition game.
Then, during the NHL lockout in October 2012, Simmonds was taunted with racial jeers while playing in a game in the Czech Republic.
“I’m kind of a fly in a bucket of milk here,” Simmonds said. “There’s not too many guys that are African-Americans playing in the league. We have our share of players. We’re in a different situation here than Donald Sterling (is). He’s kind of the opposite of what I am.”