The latest controversial episode involving a white police officer and a black shooting victim has escalated talk among those in the NBA bubble about how to balance the heartache of social injustices with the relatively trivial challenge of concentrating on playoff basketball.
In particular, should the playoffs be happening at all?
The Mavericks and Clippers are putting on an epic performance. The entertainment value is off the charts. And it’s something the world needs during a historic pandemic and with strained civil relations.
But Mavericks’ coach Rick Carlisle offered an interesting take that many in the NBA are weighing the responsibility and honor of providing playoff entertainment that was missing for so long against the bigger issues going on in the world – the latest of which was Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a Kenosha, Wis., officer on Sunday.
That sparked more conversation within the NBA bubble, Carlisle said.
“It’s just a horrible gut punch,” Carlisle said before Game 5 Tuesday. “There’s a lot of conversation about a lot of things right now, understandably so. But the importance of basketball is so far down the list of things when you consider the events of the last several months, and really the events throughout history.
“And that’s one reason we read from the Equal Justice Initiative calendar every day. It’s to face those injustices going back 400-plus years, try to reckon with them, understand, talk about it, try to heal. And then you turn around and there’s another one. It’s very, very difficult.”
Carlisle starts every news conference with a daily reading from that calendar, which documents an anniversary on every day of the year of some form of racial injustice.
About the video showing the shooting of Blake, Carlisle said:
It’s an absolutely horrible, hideous situation. I saw the images on TV today, the video – it’s just beyond dreadful. I just don’t have words to describe the feeling of watching it.
“Seven shots in the back while he’s getting in the car with three kids in there. It’s unthinkable. But these things have happened all too often. And they keep happening. And that’s why we’re talking so much about racial justice here.”
And it’s something that celebrities like NBA athletes, who have a marquee platform from which to speak, are not happy about.
Already there has been questions raised about whether the NBA bubble should continue. Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, among others, said well before the bubble was a certainty that he wondered if it was the right thing to do given the social-justice focus that has been on the country since George Floyd’s murder in late May.
Those same conversations are back on the table now.
“Coming into this, so much of the conversation about whether the Orlando NBA campus was even going to happen hinged on social justice and the things that were going on in the world,” Carlisle said. “So in my conversations with the players’ association, this really happened because there was an opportunity to play the game we love.
“More importantly, it was a platform to really talk about some things that have been going on in the world – George Floyd on back.”
The NBA, along with the National Hockey League, have given the sporting landscape great hope by making the playoffs work inside of a “bubble” atmosphere.
The NBA players and executives all understand the service they are providing, which comes with the sacrifice of being away from family and friends for months on end. The world is thirsty for sports.
But it figures to be an ongoing narrative about whether basketball is worth playing when social issues continue to cloud the landscape.
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