The NBA is making history, and it is time to decide whether we as a nation want to be on the right side of it.
If your instinct is to question what the players’ strike accomplishes, stop. And listen. They protested, and we did not hear them. Not enough. They painted Black Lives Matter on the court and put “How Many More” on their jerseys, and we did not hear them. Not nearly enough. They have our ear now. Will we listen?
On Sunday, as he entered his vehicle, Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot multiple times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Blake’s three sons, ages 3, 5 and 8, were in the backseat, according to his family’s attorney. Events that led to the shooting remain under investigation, but video and first-person accounts show a startling use of excessive force. Blake is hospitalized and underwent surgery Tuesday afternoon. On Monday, NBA superstar LeBron James was asked about the shooting, as he has so often been asked to speak for those who do not have his platform.
“People get tired of hearing me say it, but we are scared as Black people in America,” he answered. “Black men, Black women, Black kids, we are terrified. Because you don’t know. You have no idea. You have no idea how that cop that day left the house. ... You don’t know if he woke up on the wrong side of the bed. You don’t know if he had an argument at home with a significant other, if one of his kids said something crazy to him and he left the house steaming. Or maybe he just left the house saying today is going to be the end for one of these Black people. That’s what it feels like. That’s what it feels like. It just hurts. It hurts.”
It has been three years since someone allegedly spray-painted a slur on the gate of James’ home.
Stop. And listen.
“We are scared as Black people in America. Black men, Black women, Black kids, we are terrified.”
On Tuesday, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers added his voice to the outcry. He is the son of a Chicago-area police officer who taught him right from wrong and about his colleagues on either side.
“What stands out to me is just watching the Republican convention and viewing this fear, right? All you hear is Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear,” he said, holding back tears. “We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that are denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung, we’ve been shot. All you do is keep hearing about fear. It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back. It’s really so sad. I should just be a coach, and I’m so often reminded of my color. It’s just really sad. We’ve got to do better, and we’ve got to demand better.”
It has been 23 years since Rivers’ home was set ablaze in an arson he believes was racially motivated.
Stop. And listen.
“It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back.”
Around the time Rivers delivered his comments, a white man opened fire on protesters in Kenosha, killing two people and wounding another. Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, was arrested on first-degree murder charges. On Wednesday, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. The three other teams scheduled to play on Wednesday followed suit and the league postponed the scheduled games. Three and a half hours later, players from the state Blake called home emerged from the locker room and issued a statement as a unified front.
“Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin, we’ve seen the horrendous video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha and the additional shooting of protesters,” Bucks forward Sterling Brown told a group of gathered reporters on behalf of his team. “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.”
It has been two years since Milwaukee police brutalized Brown over a parking violation.
Stop. And listen.
“Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action.”
One by one, current and former NBA players began sharing their experiences with racism on Wednesday.
“We are at war with racism in our country,” said Sam Mitchell.
“Now is the time for America to end systemic racism,” said Isiah Thomas.
“If not now, when?” said Chris Webber.
None of this is contrived. The NBA’s title favorites would not go on strike for something they do not know to be true. Black athletes have been brought to tears by their shared reality in front of our eyes. The system is broken. Racism is pervasive. Police brutality is frightening. If you do not feel it, at least try to feel for them.
And if you are still wondering whether this will accomplish anything, you were not listening.
James launched More Than a Vote last month and has already made great strides in the effort to combat voter suppression. Rivers called for changes to police training, unions and funding. The Bucks implored the Wisconsin State Legislature “to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform.” Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has already called a special session of the legislature to vote on the police reform bill he introduced in June.
NBA players do not have all the answers, nor should they. They are professional athletes, not politicians. To ask them to solve systemic racism is an enormous weight, but they are carrying that burden for the country right now. What can be accomplished? All of it, if everyone would just join them on the right side of history.
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports: