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Ish Smith proud of Wizards' efforts in voting and social justice

Ish Smith proud of Wizards' efforts in voting and social justice

The NBA as a whole has stepped up in recent weeks to meet the moment amid a nationwide push for social justice reform with league-wide initiatives and rule changes to help players get their messages out. Some teams have taken those efforts further, including the Washington Wizards who have a detailed program to help their fans vote.

The Wizards released a long list of steps they plan to take last week. They included an online voter registration drive, a marketing push and the potential for Capital One Arena to serve as a polling place.

The organization's approach to go beyond the NBA's league-wide measures has impressed members of the team.

"I'm telling you, this has been the best organization. I could not be at a better place at a better time," Ish Smith said. "I know it's crazy times with what is going on, but it's been smooth how this whole process has been going. They listened to us and we listened to them."

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Head coach Scott Brooks has had many conversations with his players recently about current events. He also participated in the team's march to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on June 19.

He thinks the organization has picked the right cause in focusing on voting.

"It's one of the things our players want to get behind. It's so important that everybody has that right. It's a fundamental right and we have to take advantage of it," Brooks said.

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"We just want to get it out there. Everybody has a vote and our players are really excited about what we're doing. We want to continue to bring awareness and give everybody the chance to vote."

Smith indicated the Wizards have more to come in the future when it comes to raising social justice awareness.

"Now it's time to put it in action," Smith said. "We've gotta keep going. This is one piece and one part. But I'm truly, truly thankful to be a part of this organization and what we're doing."

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Trash-talking grandmas? That is what Wizards' Ish Smith envisions with virtual fans at NBA games

Trash-talking grandmas? That is what Wizards' Ish Smith envisions with virtual fans at NBA games

The NBA is going to experiment with virtual fans using large courtside screens for games played at Disney World in Orlando. The fans will be real people and could include members of players' families. 

Wizards guard Ish Smith wonders if that is a good idea. He has no problem with the league experimenting with the arena atmosphere, he just sees some potential drawbacks.

"You're doing too much, man. Just hoop," he said. "I'm sure nobody wants their grandma in a rocking chair talking trash. 'Get my baby the ball, you aren't getting my baby the ball.'"

Smith said both of his grandmothers are still alive; one is 90 years old and the other is 80. He said he feels "blessed" to have both of them still around.

But he can't picture them out there virtually.

"They would be excited. They would go in and out [of watching the game]," he said.

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The NBA is expected to have about 300 fans for each game. They will begin to appear for the regular season games which begin on July 30. The Wizards' first game that counts is July 31 against the Phoenix Suns (4 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington).

The fans can cheer virtually through the league's website and app. Exactly how they could talk trash is hard to predict, but surely someone will figure it out. Maybe it will be a grandma, as Smith predicts.

"To each his own. Look, I'm out of it, man," Smith said.

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NASCAR's public support of Bubba Wallace was 'the most powerful scene in all of sports'

NASCAR's public support of Bubba Wallace was 'the most powerful scene in all of sports'

Over the last month, America has been having a long-overdue conversation about race, justice and equality in our society. At NBC Sports Washington, we wanted to further the dialogue by providing a forum for DMV-area sports figures who are thought leaders on these important issues.

NBC Sports Washington is launching the second part of an ongoing video series entitled Race in America. This week, Renaldo Wynn and Ish Smith joined Chis Miller for the second of these roundtable discussions to share their experiences, thoughts and how they’re using their platforms in this fight. To watch the full interview, click here.

NASCAR made two monumental statements over the past month that drastically changed how the sport is perceived by the world at large. 

The sport banned the Confederate flag from all of its events and also made an incredible, moving show of support for its lone Black driver, Bubba Wallace. 

Given the organization's history of a predominately white workforce and fan base, both messages were huge. It signaled a new era of inclusivity that many in the Black community did not feel before. 

RACE IN AMERICA: WATCH ISH SMITH & RENALDO WYNN'S FULL DISCUSSION

But with everything that has happened in NASCAR since Wallace first wore a 'Black Lives Matter' shirt in late May, the most powerful statement for NASCAR was them pushing down his car on the starting grid. Wizards player Ish Smith and former Redskins player Renaldo Wynn think that moment was one of the most powerful images in sports.

"I'm getting chills thinking about it," Smith said in NBC Sports Washington's Race in America series

The sign of solidarity came after a garage pull rope was fashioned like a noose was found in Wallace's garage at Talladega Superspeedway. Before the race the next day, all of NASCAR's current drivers and crew members from its top series physically and metaphorically pushed Wallace and his car to the front of the starting grid. 

While the FBI determined the noose was not a hate crime after the fact, the symbolism of that act reverberated across society. 

"That scene has gotta be the most powerful scene in all of sports," Wynn, who also works in auto racing, said. "Not just sports but history, because again... we talk about the history of NASCAR. Yeah, that would have been powerful for football or basketball, but this is NASCAR!"

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"It was like... a one-two punch, to let America know [NASCAR is] not being silent and we're going to stand behind Bubba. And the thing of it is, people don't know the journey that it took for him to get to that point to where he is right then and there."

Both Smith and Wynn knew Wallace at one point in their lives. Smith grew up with Wallace's sister, Brittany Gillespie, and became familiar with Bubba at an early age. 

He knows that Wallace is not comfortable with the limelight and controversy surrounding him. Nor is the publicity that came with it wanted, despite some conspiracy theorists. Still, Smith is proud of how Wallace has handled the pressure and media spotlight as only the second full-time Black driver in NASCAR's Cup Series' history. 

"To see who he is now, to see who the man he is now, I get chills because there becomes a time when you have to make a stand. I know he's uncomfortable sometimes walking in some of those areas when you're the sole Black person. To be as good as he is, he's already beaten the odds in that way. And then to speak up on what he said and how he said it, and then for NASCAR to make that action and then for them to push him- I was like, this is powerful," Smith said.

Wynn interacted with Wallace when they crossed paths at Joe Gibbs Racing. Wallace drove for JGR briefly in 2014 and 2015 for the Xfinity Series (NASCAR's second-tier series). Sponsorship issues arose halfway through the season and Wallace was granted a release from his contract before signing with another team. 

There, Wallace told Wynn about his experiences climbing up the racing ranks. He told him about dealing with racism and the Confederate flag being a common staple among smaller tiers in the South. 

"The thing of it is, he wasn't bitter. So he still had, like that joy... he didn't allow that to cause him be bitter to go through all that stuff. He's just still is like 'man, I'm going to out there and be the best and I'm not going to let that change me or cause me to be bitter'."

Some of those early experiences might still occur for young, up-and-coming Black drivers. But in the last month, Wallace has led incredible change in the racing community from leading the charge against the removal of the Confederate flag and facing several forms of racism. 

You can watch the full panel by clicking here.

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