Celtics' Marcus Smart using voice, platform to raise awareness for social justice reform

Getty Images

Celtics' Marcus Smart using voice, platform to raise awareness for social justice reform

BOSTON — Of the thousands who walked the streets of Boston protesting the death of George Floyd on Sunday, all you could see clearly were their eyes just above their mask-covered noses and mouths. 

The look was appropriate, because there is no denying the awakening that has engulfed this country since the death of Floyd last week. 

Like most of us, Marcus Smart never knew Floyd until his death became a national rallying cry for systemic change. 

But it wasn’t the first time Smart had seen or heard of an African-American man being killed at the hands of a law enforcement official. 

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Celtics news and analysis

But this was different; so different that it moved Smart and so many others in the NBA and across the country in ways we have not seen before. 

Which is why Smart was among the thousands of protestors walking the streets of Boston early Sunday evening, seeking to continue to raise awareness to the litany of societal issues that have been magnified in many respects following Floyd’s death. 

“We wanted to come out here and let our voices be heard,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “We stand for the truth; we stand for justice and won’t stop until we get justice and that’s what this is about.”

NBA players champion causes all the time. 

But this is different; different because of the personal tone that it has taken with a league that has an overwhelming majority of African-American players. 

It also resonates on a larger scale because of the NBA season being suspended, so the usual getaway from the ills of society for players is not there. 

Smart’s participation in Sunday’s protest came 24 hours after fellow Celtic Jaylen Brown led a similar protest near Atlanta which is not too far from his Marietta, Ga. hometown. 

While a number of athletes across the sports spectrum have been using their voice and platform to help generate more open dialogues about racism, police brutality and various societal issues that have stemmed from Floyd’s death, NBA players have arguably been the professional league whose players have been the most outspoken.

Whether it’s a LeBron James tweet or a Karl-Anthony Towns video, the NBA has arguably the strongest voice of any professional league on this topic.

“For us, we see it (racism) just as much as anybody,” Smart said. “We go through prejudice on a daily basis just as anybody. Our faces are shown more so people know us more.

We have a platform God has given us to go out here and spread the word and not be silent. For us, some of us have lost someone in that situation or know someone who lost someone in that situation. So in the NBA, especially for us, we’re a brotherhood.

And while we’ve seen in the past some professional players be hesitant to speak out on racism and police brutality for fear of reprisal from the teams they play for or fans, Smart has been pleased with the support he and his teammates have received from the Boston Celtics organization.

Late Sunday night, the Celtics released the following statement:
Like many others across the country, the heartbreaking and senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, along with other recent events, have left the entire Celtics organization struggling with grief and anger.
During a time in which the phrase “new normal” has often been used as our nation has struggled with the devastation of a pandemic, we imagine and hope for a “new normal” where every citizen is afforded the same rights, has the same opportunities, receives the same treatment, and can peacefully enjoy every freedom promised to all of us.
The Boston Celtics have always stood for the ideals of equality, understanding, and respect. We can’t simply hope and pray for these things, we need to lead through our actions. We stand with our players, employees, partners, and fans in being committed to championing the change we need. We need to be honest about confronting racism and abuse of power. We can and must demand equality for everyone. We can and will respond by committing to being part of the solution.

Said Smart, “For the Celtics to take a stand and support what we do, it shows how much this organization cares about its players and cares about the right thing to do.”

Indeed, the work of the Celtics, Smart and his teammates and other NBA players is important on this matter. 

No one disputes that or downplays its value. 

But the larger, more cancerous disease that’s triggering all this is racism. 

And the only way any meaningful progress will be made along those lines, is if folks like Smart and the rest of the NBA remain woke to the moment, seize it, and make the kind of transformative change that their voice and platform will allow to happen. 

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Celtics, Raptors burst Bucks' title hopes in NBA bubble?

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Celtics, Raptors burst Bucks' title hopes in NBA bubble?

The Milwaukee Bucks will resume play with a league-best record of 53-12.

But just as we saw the Bucks burst onto the scene as one of the league’s better teams, how will they be impacted by the time off as the league’s restart begins this month?

Will their title hopes burst inside the bubble? One longtime NBA scribe certainly thinks so.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Celtics news and analysis

“I think the two best teams in the East are Boston and Toronto,” veteran Toronto Raptors beat writer Doug Smith of the Toronto Star, said on the Celtics Talk Podcast on Thursday. “I like Milwaukee a lot, but they’ve never been there. And I think that’s a big, big concern. The Raptors' experience and their adaptability in games … I don’t think it gives them an edge, but it’s a big plus for them.”

The Celtics have been talked about often as one of the teams that can potentially upend the Bucks and get out of the East. 

To a lesser extent, the same can be said for the defending NBA champion Raptors, who have been able to successfully navigate through a season filled with injuries to key players to enter the bubble in Orlando with the NBA’s third-best record. 

But you wouldn’t know they were that good by the minimal talk surrounding them as potential repeat champions — which was fueled by the departure of last year's NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who now plays for the Los Angeles Clippers, and 3-and-D ace Danny Green, who now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. 

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can C's or Raptors burst Bucks' bubble in East? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Even with Leonard and Green moving on, Toronto has been a ruggedly tough team in the East. 

Pascal Siakam has emerged as an All-Star this season. Outside of maybe Boston’s Kemba Walker, there’s not a more underrated point guard in the NBA than Kyle Lowry. Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol give Toronto the kind of veteran presence in the frontcourt that all title-contenders long to have on their roster. 

And let’s not forget about head coach Nick Nurse, who will surely get some serious love when the season is over when it comes to Coach of the Year voting. 

While a lot of attention has been paid to how impressive the Raptors have been for years at home, this season they posted an identical 23-9 record on the road as well as on their own home floor. 

Smith said home-court advantage would likely determine the winner of a Boston-Toronto playoff series. But with that being off the table now that all games will be played at a neutral site, Smith still envisions what would potentially be a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire series. 

“I think it’s a seven-game series if they played it in Boston, Toronto, Orlando or on Mars,” Smith said. “These teams are very evenly matched. They’re both very good. They can beat you in a lot of ways. That’s a big thing in the postseason.”

So what would decide the series?

“It comes down to the wings. The wings determine the series,” Smith said. “Can OG Anunoby contribute? Can Norm Powell contribute? How do Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum handle that kind of thing? I think that’s where the series is won or lost.”

Enes Kanter, Celtics offer inside look at NBA bubble meals, hotel rooms

Enes Kanter, Celtics offer inside look at NBA bubble meals, hotel rooms

The Boston Celtics have entered the bubble.

The Celtics flew to Orlando on Wednesday and reported to Walt Disney World's Gran Destino Tower, where they'll stay throughout the NBA's restarted 2019-20 season.

Other NBA teams arrived earlier than the Celtics, and some players complained about the underwhelming meals they received and some less-than-ideal living conditions.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Celtics news and analysis

A few C's players had a different experience, however. Here's Celtics big man Enes Kanter showing off a solid Wednesday night dinner spread that included steak, sweet potatoes and greens:

Kanter also took a video of his breakfast Thursday morning, shouting out the NBA for giving him halal food in accordance with his observation of Islam.

Jayson Tatum, meanwhile, called in reinforcements, as his mother apparently came through to feed her 22-year-old son: 

As for their living arrangements, Kanter gave fans a tour of his living quarters at the Gran Destino:

Life in a single suite can get lonely, but the C's already are finding ways to connect and stay entertained. Celtics forward Semi Ojeleye hopped on Twitch on Wednesday night for a video game session, while big man Vincent Poirier shared his own gaming setup on Instagram.

The 22 teams in the NBA bubble have to adhere to strict safety protocols (sorry, no doubles ping pong) to limit the spread of COVID-19. But they're all playing by the same rules, so the teams that best adapt to their new environments may have the best chance of succeeding once games start later this month.

The Celtics will play three scrimmage games beginning July 24 before opening their "seeding round" schedule July 31 against the Milwaukee Bucks.