Breonna Taylor

NBA welcomes its newest teammate, Breonna Taylor, with restart upon us

NBA welcomes its newest teammate, Breonna Taylor, with restart upon us

Programming note: Watch "Race in America: A Candid Conversation" on Friday, July 31 on NBC Sports Bay Area after the conclusion of "Giants Postgame Live."

Players on every NBA team are embracing their newest common teammate.

Coaches of every team are warmly welcoming the common addition to the roster.

Her name is Breonna Taylor.

“I want to continue to shed light on justice for Breonna Taylor,” LeBron James proclaimed exactly one week ago.

LeBron has an entire league of company. As the NBA begins its restart Thursday, there is a new and greater spirit of teamwork. Taylor is an honorary member of all 22 teams participating in the Florida bubble.

She can’t suit up. She’ll never suit up. She was killed in her home on March 13 by three Louisville police officers serving a no-knock warrant meant for someone else. In an instant, she became another grim statistic in the discord between law enforcement and Black citizens.

Taylor’s spirit will be everywhere, her name stitched into every empty seat in every venue, a sober reminder that, even as the games go on, a more significant event is beyond the court.

Players and coaches have noted the movement of the past two months. They’ve seen and heard the opposing forces in the streets of America, one side convulsing for justice and the other side aiming to suppress. They sense the urgency and feel the purpose. They understand the mission, speak of it every day, and are ready to accept it.

That is the belief of many, including former Warriors star Sleepy Floyd and NBA analyst Sekou Smith, of NBA TV and NBA.com. Both were panelists this week on “Race in America: A Candid Conversation,” televised Friday night on NBC Sports Bay Area after "Giants Postgame Live."

“A lot of guys decided that this is going to be their forum to make a statement,” Smith says. “A lot of players were conflicted if they wanted to play (during these times). To keep the message at the forefront they had to do something.”

Floyd, who retired in 1995, urges athletes and coaches to capitalize on the pleas of now.

“The access to millions of people throughout the world . . . taking advantage of that – especially if you’re African American or of color,” he says. “Using your platform to bring attention or awareness, we have a responsibility to our communities and beyond to use your platform.”

The NBA restart comes with a threefold purpose. 1) Stay clear of the coronavirus pandemic. 2) Finish the season and crown a champ. 3) Accelerate the intensified movement to make America fair to people of every color and culture and, therefore, a nation finally living up to a promise now centuries old.

[RACE IN AMERICA: Listen to the latest episode]

It’s a lot to ask of a sports league, to be sure, but there may be no group better equipped with the tools to magnify the spotlight on inequality.

The NBA is Black and it’s white, and it’s so much more. With representatives from more than 40 countries, it is the most multicultural of our major sports leagues. It is the most popular sport in America to go live this month -- baseball is a distant second -- and its players and coaches realize their profiles may never be higher, their platforms never broader.

Consider that on July 19, Thunder star Chris Paul, joined by roughly 40 players, arranged a Zoom call with Breonna’s mother, Tamika Palmer. Players wanted to support Palmer and express their desire to do whatever they can to ease her pain, as well as that of the other survivors.

That’s not typical NBA business. It’s bigger. When it was suggested some (fans) might be unwilling to support the cause, Paul shrugged it off.

"I don't think it's a matter of people being willing," he told reporters in Florida. "I think it's just about us just being forceful about it. I think that's the power that we show as players, making sure that everyone hears our voice."

Floyd, a business executive in North Carolina, urges the league, at every level, to “push the message” that racism is unacceptable and need not be tolerated. Smith echoed the sentiment.

“I want to see the league players association, players, WNBA & NBA – the most powerful group of black men and women on the planet, if you think about their profile – to encourage this change that they can,” he said. “Continue to use the platform in the moment to not let everyone else off the hook, making changes that’ll be lasting for everyone. It would be a travesty to not continue to use it for good.”

[RELATED: Steph honors Breonna Taylor on shoes at Lake Tahoe golf tourney]

There are reports that when the NBA reopens with a Jazz-Pelicans game on Thursday that during the national anthem, players and coaches plan to kneel around the Black Lives Matter message painted onto the court.

Asked on Wednesday about what might be forthcoming, every player and coach I contacted declined to offer specifics but implied the moment will not be wasted.

“For us to be African-Americans on this platform that we have, to be able to speak for people who don’t have voices, it’s going to be monumental,” Jazz star Donovan Mitchell told reporters Wednesday in Orlando.

“When I become old and I retire, I want my kids and my grandkids and everybody in my family to know this is what I stood for. I stand for something that’s bigger than playing basketball and making money.”

There will be displays of support. Has to be. The timing is too right, the cause too great. Players and coaches alike are displeased with the scenes playing out across our nation. They realize that if an innocent Black woman can be killed without anyone held accountable, silence is not an option.

May they speak up, with knowledge and compassion, at every opportunity.

May they speak with voices of all cultures, too loud and unified to be ignored.

Steph Curry donating Breonna Taylor tribute shoes to Black Lives Matter

Steph Curry donating Breonna Taylor tribute shoes to Black Lives Matter

Warriors guard Steph Curry completed his first round of the American Century Championship golf tournament in Lake Tahoe on Friday, and did so while drawing attention to a cause that he doesn't want people to forget about. Towards the toe end of each of his golf shoes were Breonna Taylor's name and likeness.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman and EMT, died in her own home on March 13 after being shot eight times by Louisville police while executing a search warrant. Nearly four entire months have passed since that tragic day and all three officers involved have yet to be arrested, sparking outrage across the country.

Curry's choice of footwear Friday was one of the latest examples in what has been an ongoing chorus of calls for justice. And beyond that, he intends to donate the shoes to Black Lives Matter so that they may be auctioned, with all proceeds going to the organization.

"Obviously, shining a light on Breonna Taylor," Curry explained after completing his round. "Demanding and praying and wishing for justice for her and her family. Anytime you have an opportunity to be on a stage or a platform to raise awareness and continue the conversation going on in our country, I'm all for that. I'll send these to the Black Lives Matter organization and hopefully raise a lot of money for the amazing work that they're doing. 

"We all have roles to play in terms of changing the racial climate in our country, and this is definitely more than just a moment that we're feeling. This is a very small gesture, but hopefully the money goes a long way, and hopefully they continue the conversation of what needs to change all the way around."

[RACE IN AMERICA: Listen to the latest episode]

While the continued search for justice for Taylor and her family clearly is of particular concern for Curry, the donation of his shoes fits in with a wonderful theme of the ACC tournament. Rather than have a purse go to the victor, all winnings will be donated to a number of charities.

Naturally, Curry was more than happy to play for those additional causes.

"Usually there's a purse to play for," Curry said, "but obviously with everything going on, the ability to come up here and play golf and know that -- I don't know what the amount is -- it's all going to worthy causes that will impact lives, and we get to do it by being out here playing golf and being on a stage, it's pretty awesome to be a part of that."

Curry is one of the most popular athletes on the planet, with a platform to match. He understands his role, and continues to do great and important things within it.