Los Angeles Clippers coach Glenn "Doc" Rivers says he has declined to speak to Donald Sterling with the team's owner embroiled in a race controversy and urged fans to support the players. (Also read: Clippers' players make silent protest)
The Clippers play their first home game Tuesday since racist remarks purportedly by Sterling became public when they face the Golden State Warriors in a first-round playoff series that is delicately poised at 2-2.
Some fans want supporters and players to boycott the game in protest, but Rivers said Monday: "We need unbelievable support and I hope that's what we are going to get from our fans.
"I hope it's packed and people are cheering for the players. They were cheering for the players before this. If they feel differently, who's to say they are wrong? I certainly won't say that."
Comments revealed Saturday by celebrity website TMZ are believed to be those of Sterling saying he did not want black people to attend Clippers games. Findings of an NBA probe into the recordings are expected to be revealed hours before the playoff showdown.
"I was asked if I needed to talk to Donald. I passed. I don't think now is the right time, for me at least," Rivers said.
"I believe he said those things but I want to make sure it hasn't been doctored. I heard what he said. Until someone tells me differently, you usually believe what people say. I will wait for that further judgment."
- 'Defining moment' -
In the meantime, Rivers is trying to focus his players on their playoff fight for an NBA title.
His team staged a silent protest Sunday after Sterling's alleged comments, and the controversy appeared to affect them in a 118-97 loss.
"I sympathize with my players. They didn't sign on for this," Rivers said. "What bothers me the most is they are getting attacked in some ways. I feel terrible for them. I want to do what I can to make them OK.
"Even to the point of should you play or not, all those things have been talked about by all of us. It's very difficult to compete in a playoff series when you have any of those thoughts.
"We've all decided (playing) is the right course but that doesn't mean we don't wrestle with it every day and every moment. If you want to cut to the chase with it, for the players that's the issue."
Rivers agreed with those who say this is a defining moment for the NBA, whose players are mostly African-Americans, and made it clear he supported the NBA investigation.
"I don't know what they could have done in the past. Now there seems to be proof. They can do something now. I think this is going to be handled the right way," he said.
- Fans divided over boycott -
Examples of the fan divide were clear on Twitter between two African-American entertainers, actor Kevin Hart and rapper Flavor Flav.
"A huge statement would be Boycotting the Clipper Game...I feel like no one (should) attend the game at all as long as he's the owner! This man MUST GO," Hart tweeted.
"We have to realize that we have power...let's use it damn it!!!! #BoyCottTheClippersGame."
In contrast, Flav said: "Should the clippers fans go to the game tomorrow,? Answer is:hell yeah! Go and support the team to hell with the owner he's not the team!!!!"
Comedian Billy Crystal also took to Twitter, saying: "He may own the team but they belong to us. Go Clippers!"