During Wednesday’s media availability, Jayson Tatum spoke out about the shooting of Jacob Blake—the latest in a decades-long string of police brutality that disproportionately targets people of color in the United States.
While Blake lies partially paralyzed and fighting for his life after one of seven bullets fired into his back severed his spinal cord, the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors voiced what Tatum called “raw emotion and feelings” over what’s happening across the country and the players’ frustration in not being able to do more from the bubble.
Shortly after, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play Game 5 against the Orlando Magic. The Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, and Portland Trail Blazers followed suit. According to The Undefeated’s Marc Spears, Boston and Toronto have considered doing the same for Game 1 of their second round series on Thursday. The NBPA and its members plan on meeting tonight at 8 pm; a veteran player told SI’s Chris Mannix that “the season is in jeopardy.”
The Milwaukee Bucks have decided to boycott Game 5, source tells ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 26, 2020
Decision made. Thunder and Rockets are boycotting Game 5, sources said. https://t.co/SCNAjsQYea— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) August 26, 2020
“Being a Black man in America is more important than what I’m doing out there on the basketball court. Using my platform and my voice to help create conversation and change is more important than anything I could do out there,” said Tatum. Chris Grenham of Forbes Sports, shared the full quote:
Tatum joined his teammates Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, the Raptors’ Fred VanVleet, Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, and many more NBA players and coaches who have used their platform to call attention to the police shooting in Kenosha, WI.
“We keep loving this country and this country doesn’t love us back.”— ESPN (@espn) August 26, 2020
Doc Rivers got emotional while talking about Jacob Blake being shot by police and social injustice. pic.twitter.com/qQI2Ld2DGI
The news continues to rush in. The columns on Tweetdeck seem to keep speeding up. I’ve hit pause for a few minutes to breath.
What can the players accomplish through this strike? How do I respond as a fan?
Hearing Tatum’s pain (after Doc Rivers’ press conference and Jaylen Brown’s media availability) made me remember an afternoon in early June. I was stuck in my car. As I started to shift in my seat, I wasn’t feeling particularly empathetic.
My wife and I hit traffic heading north toward downtown Seattle after a day of house-hunting. We were exhausted, hungry, and both in need of a bathroom when, out of nowhere, we were at a standstill.
Less than two weeks after George Floyd was murdered, protesters in Seattle made their way onto the highway. Washington State troopers hurried in to block off traffic and create a safe space for people to assemble and move through.
About a mile back from the onramp, we were momentarily awash in inconvenience and discomfort. What a drag. What timing. We should have gone around. We were going be late to pick up dinner.
Here’s the thing about direction action and organizing power: it targets the status quo and disrupts it. At that moment, my wife and I were in the crosshairs. It felt shitty to have our afternoon upended.
But that’s just it. In the grand scheme of things, we had it great. We were fortunate to be looking for a house. We had stable jobs and could afford dinner on the run from an upscale burger joint. My complaints and my discomfort were fish food in comparison to the structural inequities purposefully oppressing communities of color being brought to the forefront by the protesters on the highway.
As an NBA fan, I find basketball to be joyful and thrilling entertainment. It was the first sport I loved and it’s the one I move heaven and earth to watch and write about every year. And having it taken away for a game (or a few months) is just an inconvenience. It’s a lot like being stuck in traffic for an indeterminate period of time—it ain’t the end of the world. It’s probably one of the furthest things from struggling to breath for generations under the knee of structural racism.
The hard truth is that this moment is the continuation of a longer movement—one with outrageously lopsided terms that many of us are just beginning to understand. An NBA game postponed on Thursday won’t reform a police department in Kenosha on Friday.
No matter what the Celtics and Raptors decide to do tomorrow, their actions are the first baby steps for players connecting to the people who hold power in the league, in society, and in government. It might cost teams money. It might rankle fans. It’ll hopefully be enough to bring the keepers of the status quo a few inches closer to the table. Tatum, Brown, Smart, and their NBA peers are asking us to walk with them.
For NBA players, figuring out what to do with their power is a long, winding, arduous process. Who can they influence? What can they ask for once people in power are listening? How can they keep up the effort over time?
Fan support does more than juice Jaylen Brown to rip off a 360-dunk in transition or create the celebratory roar when Tatum cans a step back trey. Right now, we have a chance to speak up and tell Tatum and the team that we hear them when they call out systemic inequity and police brutality. We can post, we can talk to friends and family, and we can walk with Tatum and his teammates along this path full of conflicting feelings and discomfort.
Ultimately, teams are part of our community. In this age of connectedness, we’d be foolish to think that the Celtics won’t hear our support if we just voice it. Let’s see what happens when we listen to these players and speak up.