There are times when events in the world beyond sports eclipse the games and stampede through our minds. There were countless such moments in 2020, perhaps none more brazen than that which occurred on Day 6 of 2021.
All Americans should be offended by the scenes out of Washington D.C. on Wednesday, when a mob of white supporters of President Donald Trump staged an armed takeover of the Capitol building with tepid resistance, which hit particularly hard in the NBA.
It’s a league in which 75 percent of the players are Black, which means they can’t miss the racial double standard that existed even before America was an independent country. They know what they saw, and they know it’s wrong.
“It just goes to show you where this country is, where this country always has been, and probably where it's going to stay,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said after a 108-101 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at Chase Center.
That feeling cannot be avoided given the history. It's only a few months ago that police officers and the National Guard, all clad in protective riot gear, routinely used tear gas and batons and, in some cases, vehicles as weapons in response to multiracial crowds protesting injustice.
There is a difference. Always has been. It can’t be unseen.
“The policing system was built against Black people, Black and brown people,” Green added. “And that's the reason those reactions are different. That's the reason someone can walk or run or bust their way through or whatever into the Speaker of the House’s office and put their feet on their desk like they’re sitting at home on her couch. And nothing happens.”
The NBA is a league in which those who are not Black but make a living off the predominantly Black labor force should be aware and have a measure of compassion for the plight of Black Americans.
Yet every American with the slightest sense of awareness watched in horror or embarrassment or disgust or delight at law enforcement’s passive approach. Rioters literally ran through the hallways and offices and meeting rooms, where America’s laws are debated and decided upon, grabbing mementos and making themselves comfortable.
“As Black people, we get worse things done to us if we peacefully protest,” Andrew Wiggins said. “That's the crazy part. And I hope this just wakes up the world to let you know that there's no change. Nothing has changed.
“Let there be some Black people run in there, they all would have been shot before they even got in the building.”
History has shown that Wiggins is right. That Black lives still do not matter to America as large as white lives do.
Yet he and his teammates have a job to do. They were trying to play a basketball game while navigating a maze of emotions.
“You live this,” Wiggins said. “Every day, you go to work. Every day, you do your job. Whatever you do, you’ve got to know in the back of your head that whatever you do as a Black man, the outcome would be different than another race. So, you’ve just got to keep that in the back of your mind with whatever you do. That’s the world we live in.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, a white man, was trying to coach while navigating those same emotions, though clearly not firsthand. He was thrilled with the news out of Georgia earlier Wednesday, with progressive candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff winning run-off elections over candidates aligned with Trump’s agenda.
Between what the nation witnessed in D.C. and the news that the white Kenosha, Wis., officers involved in the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man without a gun, will not face charges, Kerr felt the gravity of the moment.
“Just a blatant, blatant display of the inequity in our country,” he said. “And I think given that the vast majority of players in our league are African American, it can only affect every single one of them deeply. It affects all of us deeply, but especially if you're an African American and you have to deal with this type of injustice in your entire life and in your family’s lives.”
The games went on. This time. But real-world problems and injustices are more visible than they’ve ever been. Optics matter, whether it’s George Floyd dying under the knee of a white police officer or white rioters determined to overturn an election with bipartisan certification, what folks see stirs their souls.
What was seen on Wednesday was a crime against the nation and an affront to those who realize this was yet another example of white privilege. Makes the day painful. Makes the games feel small.