SACRAMENTO -- As the Kings prepared to host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night at Golden 1 Center, the game was secondary throughout the day while the teams -- and the rest of the United States -- awaited the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis.
Just after 2 p.m. PT, a jury convicted Chauvin, a former police officer for 19 years in the Minneapolis Police Department, in the death of George Floyd last May. Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died after Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for over nine minutes.
Chauvin will be sentenced in eight weeks and faces up to 40 years in prison for the second-degree murder charge.
The case has captivated the country, and the world, since Darnella Frazier, who was 17 at the time, recorded Floyd's death on camera last May 25. Prior to the Kings hosting the Timberwolves, head coach Luke Walton spoke about Chauvin's conviction.
“It’s a wild time, there’s progress happening and we all know as a country and as people, we have to continue to work to be better, continue to work to make this world a better place,” Walton said during his pregame video conference. “It was an emotional day.”
Walton said that he was working on game prep when the verdict started to come down. Like most people in the country, he stopped what he was doing and watched the news unfold.
“It really is bigger than basketball,” Walton said. “It’s something that the players in this league and the league as a whole have really done a nice job of using the platform to create awareness and be supportive for this type of change to happen. It’s a wild day, and we’ll see where we go from here.”
According to Walton, the Kings had a brief discussion before hitting the floor for their pregame walk-through. It was an important chance to pause the basketball talk and have a real-world discussion.
“You do have these moments where it is our jobs, but it’s not the most important thing in the world and today was one of those days,” Walton said. “We talked about it, and then we moved on to getting ready for this Minnesota game tonight.”
Walton, like so many others, is hoping that this is a catalyst for change across the country and around the world. While he hasn’t had firsthand negative experiences with police, he has spent most of his adult life surrounded by Black teammates. He can’t speak for them, but he knows that his experience as a white man dealing with police isn't universal.
“It needs to be and it should be equal for everyone, there shouldn’t be a fear of getting pulled over, there shouldn’t be a fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Walton said. “I grew up knowing that police were here to protect and serve and when I saw a cop, I felt good. I felt safe. And it needs to be like that for everyone.”
Chauvin’s conviction isn’t the first of its kind, but it comes at an incredibly important point in American history. There is positive momentum for change. The NBA, its teams, players and coaches are an important part of the wider conversation.