Black Lives Matter.
Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Mavs general manager Donnie Nelson made that perfectly clear on Wednesday during a conference call with 40-plus members of the media.
A call for racial equality and social justice has swept the nation and the world in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd while he was in the custody of four Minneapolis police officers. On May 30, the National Basketball Coaches Association created an initiative to educate and take on the long fight against racial equality.
Carlisle, president of the NBCA, said the initiative is called NBA Coaches For Racial Justice. And when the 2019-20 NBA season restarts on July 30 with all games and the entire playoffs occurring in Orlando, Carlisle believes that’s the ideal time to grow the conversation.
“This platform in Orlando is going to be a great opportunity for us to talk about the history of racial justice,” Carlisle said. “We plan to revisit it on a daily basis.
“I know that (the words) Black Lives Matter is going to be on the courts that we play on, which is great. This is the great opportunity to keep this conversation going about a problem that’s been going on for over 400 years. We have got to keep this conversation going. It’s more important than ever.”
Carlisle said on May 30, two or three NBA coaches contacted him and David Fogel – the NBCA executive director.
“We felt that there was a real need to get all of the head coaches together — this is in the wake of George Floyd’s killing — and within six hours we got together on a Zoom call of all 30 (NBA) head coaches,” Carlisle said. “(Atlanta Hawks head coach) Lloyd Pierce was a guy that was very outspoken about how he felt about things that were happening. Everyone on the call was angry and anxious to take action.
“We just felt as a group at that point that our platform as head coaches needed to be put to use. And so we formed a committee on racial injustice and reform. That committee was led by Lloyd Pierce and had eight other members, including some of our most outspoken coaches on racial injustice – (San Antonio Spurs head coach) Gregg Popovich, (Golden State Warriors head coach) Steve Kerr, Stan Van Gundy, even though he’s not actively coaching right now, and many others. The name of our initiative is the NBA Coaches For Racial Justice, and our national platform is that we’re going to be under the umbrella of the Obama Foundation, and also the Equal Justice Initiative led by Bryan Stevenson.”
A social justice activist, lawyer, and founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson has joined the NBCA’s initiative as a consultant.
“He has done an amazing amount of work over decades, and he’s one of the foremost civil rights lawyers that we have in this country, so we’re very proud to have him on board,” Carlisle said. “We plan to do some town halls on TV with Bryan and some of our other head coaches — hopefully with NBA TV or TNT or ESPN.
“This is a long-term initiative that we’re getting into. We have the stomach for it. There’s a high level of motivation. So we’re looking forward to Orlando being a real jumping off point for us.”
This all stems from the May 25 incident in Minnesota, when officer Derek Chauvin strategically placed his knee on the neck of Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd, who repeatedly kept saying “I Can’t Breathe,’ eventually died, igniting protests around the world.
Nelson noted that it’s paramount that racial injustice be eradicated.
“As everyone knows we’ve come a long way, but we’ve got quite a long way to go, and that’s never been more evident in terms of the recent developments,” Nelson said. “As a country, as a community, as an individual across the board I think we have an incredible platform by which I think that we can put the spotlight on some issues that are paramount to all of us.
“From (NBA commissioner) Adam Silver to (Mavs owner) Mark Cuban to (Mavs chief executive officer) Cynt Marshal to Rick obviously with the coaches’ association, there’s nothing more important to us as an organization, as a league than getting that right. And I think all of us individually have to look internally – what can we do better? We have to hold each other accountable.”
The world, obviously, is at a different place than it was in 2016 when there was an uproar after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others were kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and social injustice. Now, athletes, police officers and others are kneeling across the world.
So, what changed?
“We support our players 100% in terms of their ability to express themselves individually or as a group if they wish,” Carlisle said. “When this issue came up a few years ago, Mark (Cuban) and I had the same response — it was 100% support.
“I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like in Orlando — there could be different forms of expression. But our country is a free country and we believe that the most important thing is to be 100% supportive of our players’ right to express themselves the way that they wish.”
Carlisle also highlighted the relationship he and others with the Mavs have with Collette Flanagan, who is the founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality.
“I’m proud that in our market we’ve partnered with Mothers Against Police Brutality, and we’re going to be working locally with them,’ Carlisle said. “Myself, (Mavs assistant coaches) Jamahl Mosley and Stephen Silas on my staff, along with (center) Dwight Powell and Collette Flanagan from Mothers Against Police Brutality have met so far with (Dallas) mayor Eric Johnson.”
Meanwhile, NBA players are adamant that social justice and racial equality be an integral part of the season when it restarts. Thus, the words Black Lives Matter will be painted on the inside of both sidelines on all three arenas the NBA will employ at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.
“One of the things that is most important — we got this from Bryan in our conversations with him — is that as coaches we’re teachers,” Carlisle said. “And when you teach you educate, and we’ve got to educate our players on the history of racial injustice — all the things that have gone on for centuries.
“We’ve also got to educate the people that watch the NBA game. And we’ve got to take this on with a great level of humility — and this is a daunting task. There’s no way it’s ever going to happen overnight, but the conversation must continue.”