As NBA players journeyed from their homes to Orlando Fla., preparing for the league’s experimental resumption amid a global pandemic, far more than basketball weighed on their minds and pressed against their chests.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, men and women in cities across America were marching against racial injustice and for an end to police brutality against Black people. NBA players joined them, including Kyle Lowry, who marched in Philadelphia alongside members of the Philadelphia 76ers.
The trauma that started those protests and marches has an echo — one that was heard and felt by members of the Toronto Raptors once again since the shooting of Jacob Blake.
“You wouldn’t believe how many of our own players have been in this situation with law enforcement officers, with guns held to their head,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said during a Tuesday appearance on Sportsnet’s Tim and Sid. “That’s why you see how much it hurts for them, that’s why it hurts them, they’re having to re-live it being them or it could be them or their kids. That’s why you can feel the depth and the heaviness of it for these guys, and the realness of it.”
Video of Blake’s shooting surfaced online Sunday night and spread quickly on social media. It showed a Black man, identified as Blake, rounding the front of a silver SUV with two Kenosha, Wis., police officers following close behind with their weapons drawn. When Blake then opened the vehicle’s door to attempt to get inside, one of the officers grabbed Blake by his shirt from behind and several shots are then heard firing. According to a lawyer for the family, three of Blake’s children were in the back of the SUV he was attempting to enter when the shooting occurred.
On Tuesday, attorneys for Blake’s family said he had been paralyzed by the shooting after at least one bullet struck his spinal chord, and has suffered other serious injuries — including having much of his colon and small intestines removed. Blake’s relatives have issued a call for protests in Kenosha to remain peaceful, where the demonstrations since his shooting prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency.
All NBA teams in Orlando have sought to keep racial injustice at the forefront as games resume. The Raptors themselves have been seen as leaders on that front, arriving to the bubble in team buses with the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ painted on their sides, devoting media availabilities to the discussion of systemic racism and police brutality, kneeling for the national anthem. But as could be heard in Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell’s comments on Tuesday, the yearning to do more is stronger than ever — and could lead to the boycotting of games.
“Well, we might,” Nurse said, when asked about boycotting specifically. “It’s being talked about. As far as what may happen with the games, I think that everyone’s done everything they can do with wearing t-shirts and hats, painting the floors and kneeling. They want to make more of an impact. They want things to stop, so they may have to move things up another notch. They want more action and they’re seeking answers.
“…I think that from Masai [Ujiri], to Bobby [Webster], to me, to Larry Tanembaum if our team wants to do something that they feel is necessary to make change and an impact, we will support them.”
Nurse, for his part, does not see lending his support if players choose to boycott games as being where his role begins or ends. A coach’s job is to strategize, after all. To plan and help a team create actionable ways of implementing that plan — on the court and off of it, too.
“I think that you’ve got to prioritize and what I do is I forget about the basketball,” Nurse said, when asked to describe his role in his team’s advocacy. “That’s not the priority. So the priority is first of all, to listen and get them together and share this space with them to let them talk.
“I’m listening to your ideas and now we need a plan of action. This is how it’s gonna work. Your vision is that you want police reform, well what’s going to be our top five points in our plan of action? That’s just me being one of the leaders of the group.”
Whether it’s seeking justice or advocating for voter turnout and awareness — for which Nurse has been a staunch supporter, particularly in educating Americans abroad about their rights to vote in the upcoming election — the world is still watching the NBA. Nurse knows there’s power in that.
“Playing here certainly lets there be more of a platform and a voice for these guys than not playing would have been,” Nurse said. “I stated that from the beginning. I think there was some question about coming — obviously, Kyrie [Irving] and those guys had meetings and talked about not playing at all — and I think I’m on the side that coming here was a better way to use the platform than not playing.”