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.”
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.