The Dallas Mavericks were back on the practice court Friday after two days of talks among players, coaches and owners and the postponement of six NBA playoff games in the wake of last Sunday’s shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.
Blake, a black man, was shot seven times in the back by a white Kenosha, Wis., police officer. NBA players – led by the Milwaukee Bucks – wanted the league to hear their voice and try to come to some type of solution on how to stop police brutality and systemic racism.
“Today we talked in depth about the Blake situation, the circumstances situation, the fact that he’s in a hospital bed right now handcuffed to the bed,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “We talked in depth about everything that’s been going on for the last couple days, and it was a good conversation. Difficult, but good.
“The level of awareness has never been greater. So we’ve got to move forward from here. Basketball’s got to be therapeutic, but right now basketball stands for the fight against social injustice.”
Carlisle, who also is the president of the National Basketball Coaches Association, said he was in all of the meetings over the past two days, along with Doc Rivers (coach of the Clippers, Nick Nurse (Raptors), Erik Spoelstra (Heat) and Brad Stevens (Celtics). Also attending was Masai Ujiri, president of the Raptors.
“We were six coaches and general managers that were invited,” Carlisle said. “As an ex-player and an ex-active member of the Players Association, I was so proud of what the players accomplished in the meeting yesterday.
“I was proud of the way that they were able to address the situation with ownership, and they came out of it with a new Justice Coalition and a lot of immediate action that can happen now with respect to voting, legislation, and a wide-ranging list of things. And so it was very constructive. It was a hard two days, very, very difficult two days. But the players’ decision to continue to play is a very important one historically, and the fight goes on from here.”
Center Dwight Powell, the Mavs’ player representative who also is on the NBA’s rules committee, described the meetings as emotional, as the players have grown tired of systemic racism and police brutality. He also said the players supported the Bucks, who didn’t show up to play Wednesday’s playoff game against the Orlando Magic, and ultimately that game was the first of the games postponed, which included Game 6 of the Mavs’ playoff series against the Clippers.
“I think we’re experiencing a lot of high emotions from the events that took place over the last several months, to be honest, which I think for us in this situation came to head just a few days ago with the incident with Jacob, and I think all of us felt that at a high level,” Powell said. “I think the actions that Milwaukee took, we were all on board to support them because we understood that feeling of, if you had watched the video (of the Blake shooting) or not, just hearing how this man (was shot), it’s painful, it’s disgusting, it’s a disturbing, and it makes you take a step back and really kind of think about things in a different light.
“In that moment I understand (the Bucks) thinking basketball was not important. And they wanted to take a second to reflect and to think about what it is that we can do to help, and what can draw attention to the situation and bring change, because it’s affecting all of us one way or another. Whether we want to accept it or not, it’s affecting every person in this country. It’s a blemish that we need to find a way to rectify and find a way to change and find a way to help.”
In addition to meeting with some of the NBA coaches, the players also met with some of the NBA owners. And those meetings also were very productive.
“One of the demands of the players in this new coalition is that every NBA arena, to the extent that it’s possible, be open as a voting site,” Carlisle said. “The other thing was there’s going to be television time set aside to advertisements about voter suppression and the importance of voting and how to get registered to vote. Those things are key. We came down to the bubble to Orlando to play basketball to continue the season, but to bring change and to use our voices and to amplify our platform to try and bring change. Not to say that at any point we forgot that, but I think it was important for us at that moment to support Milwaukee and take a moment to kind of reorganize and concentrate back on what’s really important. So the meetings that we’ve had were very productive.
“I think all players are very motivated, and then the conversations with the league and with the ownership group were very motivated to find ways to actively bring change right now and for the future going forward. Obviously, we’re basketball players first and foremost here — that’s our profession. So, seeking out help to help us bring change I think was an important step as well as finding ways through the Justice Coalition that we’re going to go forward with this in the right way that we can actually effect change systemically going forward to help the next generation.”
Powell said there was a point when he and his teammates thought they were not going to play any more games this season.
“This is a very emotional couple of days,” Powell said. “And I think a lot of guys — not just our team, but around the league — had to have some very difficult conversations and had to really think about whether or not they wanted to come back simply because the issue of police brutality and seeing lives being lost on a regular basis is very close to home for a lot of people in this league. And I think for all of us we needed to take a moment and really think about how we can bring change.
“Across the board, especially for our team, any of the guys that were kind of questioning if this is what we should be doing right now — referring to being in the bubble — or if we should be somewhere else doing something else to bring change, I think as we talked through the pros and cons, everyone was confident and motivated to continue to play.”
Guard J. J. Barea said the meeting the Mavs had on the court Friday was special.
“This is a family, and when life gets rough we get together, we help each other out, and today it was just special – a special day in practice,” Barea said. “Everybody talked about how they’re feeling, so everybody could help him out, and it was good. It was a great talk.
“Things that we didn’t know about each other came out, and I’m proud to be on this team, proud of my teammates and for everything that we’re doing. It’s not easy to talk about those things, talk about where you’re from, things that happened before, stuff like that, but it’s good. It’s good that we’re talking about it and that’s the only way that things are going to get better.”
Carlisle said he’s learned a lot over the past 48 hours, not just about his players, but about the other NBA players in the bubble near Orlando.
“The word that comes to mind is ‘care,’ “ Carlisle said. “The players care about what’s going on in the world, and they care about action. A lot of us here are sick of hearing the term ‘keep the conversation going.’ Action is what everybody wants.
“It’s what everybody wants to see, it’s what everybody wants to be a part of — constructive action. Yesterday’s conversation between players and the governors were strong steps toward decisive immediate action that can help chip away at a problem that’s 400-plus years old. Coming away from it, the high level of care is the word I would use.”
As did Clippers coach Doc Rivers, Carlisle discussed the challenges of getting his players re-focused to play Game 6 of their first-round playoff series, which was originally scheduled to be played Thursday, but will now be played on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
“It was clear that we needed to have a strong conversation today about the last 48 hours,” Carlisle said. “A lot of players spoke, so did the coaching staff. Some of our support staff spoke. There are a lot of difficult things going on here. The isolation has been very challenging for everyone, and it’s important that we talk about those things and we talk about the realities and we talk about methods to cope and methods to keep doing our jobs.
“We’re very privileged to be in a position where there is a platform, and simply doing the thing that we love. Playing and coaching is a form of action toward social justice. It’s a great blessing, so the player’s decision to continue to play is huge and we’ve got to move forward from here.”
Moving forward, though, hasn’t been without its missteps.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy,” Barea said. “These last couple of days has been tough. When you stopped basketball, everybody starts thinking about let’s go home with our families, but we have a job to do. As players of the NBA we’re doing a great job of being here to use our platform to talk about what’s going on in the world, so I think it’s really important that we keep playing and we keep using our voices.
“And to play basketball now again, it’s not easy. But that’s part of my job here with this team. I told them today before practice, I was like, ‘The Clippers are going to get ready for the next game and try to beat us up again, so we better show up and we better get ready.’ “