As players across the NBA offered emotional messages in the aftermath of the shooting of Jacob Blake, Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart admitted players have pondered boycotting upcoming games, while Jaylen Brown said he’s been traumatized by the video of Wisconsin police shooting Blake seven times in the back.
Smart, Brown, and Celtics coach Brad Stevens all offered powerful responses as the NBA community tries to reconcile another shooting caught on video at a time when the league is pleading for social justice and racial equality.
“Something needs to change,” said Smart. “It's more important than basketball right now. [Boycotting games is] definitely a thought and we have to talk more with each other and try to get on the same page.
"People are upset, people are pissed, and people are fed up.”
It’s not a coincidence that Brown and Smart, two of Boston’s veteran leaders and two of the most vocal players in the quest for social justice during the Celtics’ stay inside the bubble, were the ones to handle the team's media chores on Tuesday. They offered raw emotion while trying to express how they feel.
Brown opened with a powerful statement in which he noted that he cannot see his own No. 7 jersey now without seeing the video of Blake being shot seven times.
"There is an emphasis in this country on the framing of these instances such as Jacob Blake. [Some say], ‘Well, he was a convicted felon, well he had a history of police brutality, well, he possibly had a weapon.’ This framework is not unfamiliar to people of color and African Americans, nor does it constitute death or being shot seven times. The reality is the majority of African Americans and people of color have a history with the police. It comes with the plague of systemic oppression, the lack of education, economic opportunity, housing, et cetera.
"Most people of color, most minorities have a history with police. The question that I would like to ask is: Does America think that Black people or people of color are uncivilized, savages, or naturally unjust, or are we products of the environments that we participate in? That’s the question I would like to ask America, and America has proven its answer over and over and over again.
"Are we not human beings? Is Jacob Blake not a human being? I don’t care if he did something 10 years ago, 10 days ago, or 10 minutes ago. If he served his sentence and he was released back into society, he still deserves to be treated like a human and does not deserve to be shot in the back seven times with the intent to kill. His kids will never unsee that. His family will never unsee that.
“And, frankly, I will never unsee it. People post my jersey all the time — No. 7, and every time I look at my jersey now, what I see is a Black man getting shot seven times. All America sees is his background, or his background before. It’s easier to see that than it is to see the truth.”
Brown went on to express a “helplessness” that players feel inside the bubble. He wondered out loud if he should be outside the bubble protesting, and pondered what more he could do to aid the social justice cause. When it was noted how Raptors players suggested they might not play to send a louder message, Brown said Celtics players hadn’t had that conversation yet.
"It was hard enough even coming down here, to be honest, but I guess that’s something you talk about with your team, for sure,” said Brown. "We haven’t talked about that as the Celtics. But those emotions are real. That is real.
Yes, we’re athletes. Yes, we’re being paid to play a sport that we love. But we are human beings, members of our community. We are fathers, uncles, nephews, brothers, et cetera. So all those emotions are real and I don’t really have a lot to say. I’m just happy by the grace of God that Jacob Blake is still alive because, the police who shot him, that wasn’t their intention. They shot him to kill him, and that’s a problem in this country. There’s a million different ways you could have dissolved that situation and your thought was to kill him. That was the best method.
Neither Brown nor Smart fielded a single question on basketball during their lengthy media sessions. The Celtics and Raptors are scheduled for Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series on Thursday night.
“We, as a team, are definitely trying to figure out something that we can do to contribute and help with this cause,” said Smart. "It’s just sad that we have to still be sitting here talking about this, and we’re still having protests, and we’re still seeing the same things that we’ve been fighting for, and it’s common sense reasons that we shouldn’t be going through that are still happening.
"And it’s sad. It’s sad. It’s sad that we have to be here doing that. My condolences go to Jacob Blake and his family — that he had to endure that in front of his kids and just endure that. It’s sad that this is the world we live in.”
Smart admitted a boycott might be one way for the NBA to really get its message across.
"We tried to be peaceful, kneeling, we tried to protest. And for us, we tried to come out here and get together and play this game and try to get our voice across,” said Smart. "But it’s not working, so obviously something has to be done. Right now, our focus shouldn’t really be on basketball. I understand it’s the playoffs and everything like that, but we still have a bigger underlying issue that’s going on and the things that we’ve tried haven’t been working, so we definitely need to take a different approach and we definitely need to try new things out to get this thing working the way that we know it should and get our voices heard even more.”
Stevens said the Celtics talked about the incident during their team meeting earlier on Tuesday. He noted that none of his players had expressed a desire to not play as part of a boycott as of Tuesday afternoon.
But Stevens could see the emotional strain on his players.
“Obviously, that video was horrifying. That video was awful. And to think of three kids being in that car is like — that just makes you shaken, right?” said Stevens. "It’s ridiculous. We’ve talked about it as a team and just how we feel. We haven’t talked about it enough but obviously everybody is shook.
"There’s a reason why the guys, coaches, players, everyone here has chosen to really emphasize social justice and racial equality while we’re here. To think that this happens again — I thought LeBron [James’] words were poignant [Monday] night. I’ve heard those over and over. I’ve said this before, I can’t pretend to understand what that’s like because I don’t know what that’s like. But I know I’ve heard it over and over. So there’s obviously a problem. So I completely understand everybody’s emotions here and elsewhere, with regard to that."
Stevens sees the power in his players using their platform.
"I do think the idea of being able to empower, spread joy, share joy through a team sport and have an opportunity to be in front of microphones and speak on whatever you want to speak on is really powerful, but that may not be enough for some people, and that’s OK,” said Stevens. "These are hard times and, with a pandemic going on and just this constant wave of inequality, it’s just maddening. So I completely understand anybody’s stance on it.”