After the longest and most exhausting experience, Chris Paul was relieved that it was over.
Not the Donald Sterling saga that had forever changed his Los Angeles Clippers world and exposed the ugliest of NBA owners, mind you, but the search for a new National Basketball Players Association executive director that concluded late on that Las Vegas evening of July 28. Yet before Paul and his fellow players discussed their new leader with a small group of reporters inside the celebratory hotel conference room, the Clippers point guard was informed that Shelly Sterling had won a key victory in probate court just hours before. The finish line that always seemed to keep moving was closer than ever, but Paul still wasn't ready to believe it.
"It's like over, over?" a skeptical Paul asked.
Not yet, he was informed, but it would be soon.
"Yeah, exactly," he said with a shake of the head.
Paul wasn't alone when it came to his Sterling syndrome. From April 25, when TMZ first revealed his racist comments, it seemed as if Sterling's legendarily litigious ways would mean that this unsavory subplot would have no end. Yet with the Tuesday announcement from the NBA and the Clippers that former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had gained formal control of the team, Paul and the rest of the basketball world can rest easy knowing that it's, well, over, over. The wicked-witch-is-dead moment that everyone was waiting for finally arrived.
As the hashtag read on the Clippers official Twitter account not long after the announcement was made, "#ItsANewDay""
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wasn't available for comment Tuesday, which is just fine considering he showed up when it mattered most. By coming down so hard on Sterling soon after his comments became public with a lifetime ban, and by seeing his historic punishment through rather than softening his stance when the court complications came, he allowed the league to move forward with the kind of clean slate that was wholly necessary here because of the seriousness of the matter.
The players wouldn't have accepted any less, and now they'll enter next season and beyond knowing that this 52-year-old attorney who had such huge shoes to fill when he took over for David Stern in February is more than capable of defending their honor. Owners and players will always battle over business, and the inherent nature of Silver's role means he'll take the side of the men who run these 30 teams, but Silver displayed the kind of leadership and humanity in his first major challenge that won't soon be forgotten.
What a relief for the players, coaches and staff members of the Clippers, too. Rather than facing a training camp full of questions about how they could continue to work for such a widely reviled man, a man who was the league's worst owner long before he was exposed in such an unflattering light, Paul and company will be able to focus on basketball again.
Doc Rivers, the team's top front-office executive and head coach who made the best of a bad situation during their playoff run that ended in the second round, can talk about their renewed title pursuit rather than discussing his own uncertain future. And what a future it might be, what with Ballmer setting such an epic financial tone with his willingness to pay a record $2 billion for the franchise (previous league record was $535 million, when the Vivek Ranadive-led group bought the Sacramento Kings last year).
The Sterling story went well beyond sports, of course, delving deep into the discussion about equality and decency in the workplace. It was volatile because of the league's undeniable dynamic, a vast majority of white owners whose team's rosters are filled with African-American players. But the irony here is that the NBA is a better, more transparent and healthier place because of what went down with Sterling. And mercifully, meaningfully, it has finally come to an end.
Yes, Chris, it's over, over.