In a roughly hour-and-15-minute-long special of TNT’s Inside the NBA on Thursday, host Ernie Johnson, panellists Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, and some special guests (including NBA commissioner Adam Silver) discussed the ongoing protests over police brutality and systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police last week.
Here are some of the most memorable moments from the special.
Thoughts on what’s going on right now
To begin the show, Johnson asked his three panellists for their thoughts on the state of the world and the demonstrations spawning from the death of 46-year-old Floyd, who was killed after former police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on his neck as Floyd pleaded for his life.
Smith opened by saying he’s been blessed in life because of the success he’s found on the basketball court, but acknowledged not every African-American has been so fortunate, and that’s why we’ve seen the level of unrest we have now.
“The first thing is, to George Floyd and his family. We want to send our condolences out to friends, family that [are] immediate with him, and also condolences to a community. A community of people and a community around the world who are going through this horrific time of the scab of racism being pulled off — the Band-Aid being pulled off,” Smith began.
“Obviously, I’m a little bit distraught and, at the same time, I’m encouraged that everyone now sees what we have seen, as an African-American young man from Queens, New York, have seen my whole life. I’ve been afforded some privileges because I’ve been a First-Team All-American and I’ve been a college basketball American player of the year, an NBA champion, but at the core of that, I’ve always been a black American, a black person. And I know what those difficulties have been.
“… The reason that I was probably able to be as resilient as I probably have been is because I always had success. So, success would always make me think, ‘Well, I don’t have to deal with that. I’m not going to deal with that because I’m moving on. I’m going to the University of North Carolina. I’m not going to worry about this guy … because I’ve had success.’ And when I got to the NBA, I had more success. So, then I was like, ‘I’m not going to worry about that, that’s happening to me, because I’m having success.’
“But imagine if you’re 50, 55 years old, and you had didn’t have the success I had and you had to deal with that and you were making $25,000, $30,000 a year. That’s what you’re seeing now. And I’m glad, in a way, that America is seeing, close and upfront, the systematic racism that has been apparent to us for a long time.”
As Barkley framed it, being black is a constant source of anxiety, citing the death of Ahmaud Arbery, the racist incident Christian Cooper experienced in New York’s Central Park and, of course, the death of Floyd as examples.
“It’s stressful being a black man,” he said. “You know, I’m sitting at my house a month ago and a young black man is out for a jog and he gets shot and killed — like white folks don’t have to deal with that every day. This kid is out for a jog and his life is over.
“Two weeks later in New York City. A black man is bird-watching, he asks politely to a white woman, ‘Please put your dog on a leash.’ She goes off on a tangent, ‘I’m gonna call the police to say I’m [being] harassed by a black man in the park.’ These are things that black people have to deal with.
“Now let’s get to Mr. Floyd. We’re all at our house minding our own business and you turn on the television and you see a cop who has his knee on a man’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
“… These people were trying to live their life in a positive way and two of them got killed just for being black. One got harassed for being black. And you just get sick and tired. … It’s just tiring being black all the time, because it’s something all the time. You never get to relax.”
O’Neal covered a lot in his opening remarks, but the most poignant points were directed at those complaining about some of the protests that we’ve seen turn violent and why that may be happening.
“People are just tired, people are just frustrated, people are upset, and they have a right to be,” said O’Neal. “There was a lot of protesting, there was a lot of looting, there was a lot of people complaining about people looting. You have to understand what these people are feeling.
“And to the people that control the system, I think one way to deplete systematic racism is you have to listen. You have to listen to how we feel. You don’t know how we feel.
“You don’t know how it is when you get pulled over, what’s going to happen to you? I saw a video the other day, and I see a lot of videos like this — it was a white gentleman and the cops they were touching him up. They had the batons and they were touching him up. And so they pull him out of the car, get him to the ground, touching him up. He gets up, takes the baton, hits one cop in the head, hits another cop and then he gets in the car and he drives off.
“Now, if you have to ask the question, ‘If that was a black guy what would happen?’ there’s something wrong with the system. We already know, if he was a black guy, what would happen.”
Response to Drew Brees’ comments
New Orleans Saints star quarterback Drew Brees landed himself in hot water earlier this week when he made comments denouncing kneeling during the U.S. national anthem, believing it disrespected the flag and the country.
The backlash was swift and from all over, as it would seem Brees didn’t understand the rationale behind Colin Kaepernick’s initial protest to begin with. Brees issued an apology Thursday.
Johnson presented this topic to his panel and, surprisingly, both Barkley and O’Neal didn’t condemn Brees.
“Drew’s original statement, I thought, was insensitive — it was very insensitive, especially during this time. But I thought the negative reaction from every talking head on television and some of his teammates was overkill,” said Barkley. “I’ve never heard a bad word about Drew Brees in my life. He made a mistake, but we’ve gotten to the point in society where everybody on social media thinks they are God, judge and jury. Drew Brees made a mistake.”
More interesting than Barkley’s defence of Brees was O’Neal’s revelation that he was present when Brees made his apology to his Saints teammates.
“About two weeks ago, I was contacted to speak to the Saints players,” O’Neal said. “So, I was going to speak about team unity and something else, and then this happened. … I was on the call the day when Drew apologized to his teammates, and most of his teammates accepted his apology. They said, ‘Drew, we know your character. We know you stepped in some stuff that you couldn’t get out of. But guess what? We want you to do more positive things and less talking.’ And they all said, ‘We accept your apology.’
“I agree with Chuck. He made a mistake.”
But while Barkley and O’Neal were in forgiving moods on the matter, Smith wasn’t having it at all.
“I was very offended,” said Smith.
“I looked at it as the definition of what we call ‘white privilege’ because he has a systematic holdback and you’re only looking at it from your point of view. … So you’re not looking at it from the other ethnic race. It made it worse that it was Drew Brees, someone who we cheer for, someone we cheer for who has teammates like us, that didn’t get us. Someone who’s in a locker room every day. He doesn’t have the same excuse that some other people may have had.
“… So, you would think that he would be more educated to the sensitivities of everyone else. Someone we cheered for is using his white privilege to say he couldn’t understand what we were going through at that moment. That was very offensive for me.”
Adam Silver on what’s going on now and how the NBA can affect change
When asked about his thoughts about what’s going on in the world right now, Silver made it clear that he believes the NBA can and should be looked to as a voice of positivity on matters of racial justice.
“… We are such a unique institution, one that all of you, of course, are a part of, that I think ultimately may be in a position to have more of an impact on this issue than almost any other organization in the world,” Silver said addressing Smith, Barkley and O’Neal, specifically.
“I mean, when you think about, among the players, coaches, former players like you guys, who are included in our ownership now, within that group you have some of the most well-known people of colour in the entire world.
“… I don’t think it’s about coming up with something tomorrow, but fairly quickly. I think we need to come together and think about ways that this institution can have an impact on our greater society.”
Lastly, though it rightfully wasn’t the main topic at hand during the show, the subject of the NBA’s 22-team, return-to-play plan that was approved by the owners Thursday afternoon was brought up with health and safety questions top of mind.
“We’ve got a long way to go here. We’re really in the equivalent of the first inning,” Silver said. “I mean, the first step was to agree on a format among the 30 teams. We’ve had extensive discussions with the Players’ Association, but we haven’t finished those negotiations and they’re obviously our partners here and so [we all] have to agree to every aspect of this format. So those discussions are ongoing. We have issues to work out with Disney in terms of playing with Orlando.
“But even when all those steps are completed, I think there are constant changes in terms of what we’re learning about this virus.”
“We’re studying every day the caseload in Orange County in Florida. … We’re playing in a central location, we’re gonna play on a campus where, in essence, the players are going to live and remain there throughout the competition. Everyone is going to be tested — we’re working through the logistics with the players, but most likely daily. And even though the players will be tested on a daily basis and the other participants, other than the time when the players are face-to-face on the court — an odd thing to do in the time of the virus — the other times will be retaining certain social distancing protocols.”
In particular, on the matter of health and safety, Silver revealed that because COVID-19 impacts older people more, some of the league’s senior leaders, such as 65-year-old Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry, 69-year-old Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni and 71-year-old San Antonio Spurs bench boss Gregg Popovich, might not be allowed to be the bench coach.
“I think one of the things we know — we’ve learned a lot more about the virus since we shut down in March — and the data is demonstrating that, for the most part, there are exceptions, that healthy young people are the least vulnerable. But there are also people involved in this league, particularly some of the coaches, who are obviously older people, and we also know people at any age who have underlying conditions are more vulnerable.
“So we’re going to have to work through protocols and it may be, for example, certain coaches may not be able to be the bench coach. They may have to retain social distancing protocols and maybe they can be in the front of a room, a locker room or a ballroom with a whiteboard, but when it comes to actual play, you know, we’re not going to want them that close to players, in order to protect them.”
Silver later backtracked on those comments. In a memo obtained by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski from NBA Coaches Association president Rick Carlisle, Silver reportedly said he “jumped the gun.”
One matter of health and safety Silver seemed quite sure of is what would happen if a player were to contract the virus, and how would that impact his team or the league’s restart plan.
“We’ve been dealing with a group of our experts plus public health authorities down in Florida now and the view is that if we we’re testing every day and we’re able to trace, in essence, the contacts that player has had, we’re able to, in essence, contain that player and separate him from his team,” said Silver. “And we’re continuing to test every day. The belief is we would not have to shut down if a single player tested positive.”