Raptors’ Hollis-Jefferson urges media to continue social justice conversation

Toronto Raptors forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. (John Amis/AP)

TORONTO – Even as the NBA returns to play, the important ongoing conversation around social and racial justice and police brutality must not get lost.

That’s what Toronto Raptors forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson believes and made a point to implore the members of the media who took part of his availability after the Raptors practised Saturday evening to keep the conversation going.

“One final thing. I just wanted to say. I didn’t say anything, I just wanted to see how the questions were set up and what you guys wanted to ask,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “Now, some of you guys have the biggest platforms in the media and talking points and lots of people follow you guys so I want to challenge you all, man.

“We know what is going on in the world and where our focus should be. I know basketball has been missed and it’s loved but there are a lot of crazy things going on in this universe and we need you guys along with a lot of other people to put this word out, to put this message out, that we need unity. We need love. We need positivity and that starts with us and then it starts with you guys because you guys get our message out.

“So please, please take this a little bit more seriously. I appreciate you guys.”

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All nine questions reporters lobbed at Hollis-Jefferson during his approximately eight minute session with the media were basketball-related, including how he felt being back out there after such a long layoff during Friday’s scrimmage with the Houston Rockets, how he believes he fits in the team’s offence and, full disclosure, a question asked by myself about how the bench unit he’s a part of looked like on Friday night.

It was a surprising moment, but also served as a good reminder from Hollis-Jefferson to myself and others in my profession that there certainly is more going on right now than just basketball and that we in the media do have a responsibility to ask those kind of relevant questions to ensure this message doesn’t get buried under discussion of pick-and-roll coverages and scoring runs.

To this point, after after a moment of light fun with teammate Stanley Johnson asking a few questions to kick off his media availability, the first question a reporter asked Pascal Siakam on Saturday was about the social justice message he plans to wear on his jersey.

Like other Raptors, Siakam plans on wearing “Black Lives Matter” on his jersey because, like Norman Powell first pointed out, he wasn’t a fan of the limited options the league offered and this messaging “was the closest to what I wanted to say.”

In general, though, while Siakam thinks the jerseys are nice gestures, he thinks the emphasis should just be on the actual cause, rather than the means to get the message across.

“I felt ‘Black Lives Matter’ was the closest to what I wanted to say and, at the same time I don’t think that really matters, man, just having something on our jersey,” Siakam said. “It’s the work that we have to do on the other side that’s gonna show.

“We all have to put in work and I think our team is doing a fantastic job finding ways to [make] effective change and doing something that’s gonna mean something. It’s not just gonna be something where we have something on our jerseys and forget about it.”

This is a point well made by Siakam. The cause is definitely more important than just the messaging of the cause, but getting that doesn’t take away from the importance of messaging, either.

As limited as the options may be, the social justice messages that will be on the back of jerseys is still a good way to remind people of the ongoing fight happening now. Similarly, an initiative that appeared to debut with Raptors coach Nick Nurse and his Rockets counterpart Mike D’Antoni is another good way to keep the conversation front of mind for people.

Both Nurse and D’Antoni wore large rectangular pins with the message “Coaches for Racial Justice,” with the last two words in that message in big capitalized letters, making it easy for viewers to see it.

“We’ve talked about that the head coaches have spent a lot of time in meetings, Zoom calls, etc., with a number of initiatives,” said Nurse. “This is just one really, really small one that that group came up with and produced and got out. I kinda like ’em. … They’re pretty big, they’re pretty bold.”

And that’s exactly how you’re going to catch peoples’ attention and ensure this important battle against racial injustice won’t end until justice is served.

All around the NBA, from the players, coaches, signage along the floor, commercial spots and more, the truth that Black lives do matter is being preached. And as Hollis-Jefferson reminded us, it’s the media’s duty to do so as well.

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