Courtesy of San Antonio Spurs
After a two-month hiatus prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, NBA basketball returns this month in Orlando, where the San Antonio Spurs will make a final run for a record-breaking 23rd consecutive playoff appearance.
Despite a favorable schedule, it will be a daunting task for a Spurs team that’s 11-22 away from the AT&T Center this season. The Silver and Black will also be without their second leading scorer, LaMarcus Aldridge, who’s recovering from shoulder surgery.
Heading into the league’s $150 million-dollar basketball experiment, six NBA teams closed down their practice facilities due to positive COVID-19 tests, including San Antonio’s first opponent in Florida, the Sacramento Kings. As the Spurs prepared to enter the Orlando bubble, its players were well aware of the significance of returning to the court in the middle of a pandemic and a historic social justice movement.
“Every decade, it always seems to be, people step forward or situations happen to where we try to make change and make a difference, to better this country and better this world,” said DeMar DeRozan, who participated in a Los Angeles protest against police brutality following the murder of George Floyd.
“For something like this to be going on and be hit with a pandemic also, the social injustice has definitely been heavy on everyone. For the last couple months, it’s been on the forefront, bigger than it’s ever been. It’s given everybody the opportunities to step up and try to make a difference and help,” DeRozan said.
Here in SA, Bryn Forbes and Lonnie Walker IV marched with protestors in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and when the season resumes, Derrick White plans to honor the memory of Elijah McClain with custom Fiesta color sneakers. Just 23 years old, McClain died last August after an encounter with police officers in Aurora, Colorado after he was placed in a chokehold. Earlier this month, three members of that department were fired and a fourth resigned after photographs surfaced of officers reenacting the chokehold at a memorial site for McClain.
A Colorado native, White described what happened to McClain as “tragic and sad.”
“I think that what everybody’s got to do is educate themselves,” White said. “If you don’t know, you don’t care, you don’t listen, you won’t really feel the impact that people are feeling. First listening, and then after that, have conversations with family members, friends, try to educate them. Have those uncomfortable conversations. It’s not comfortable talking about race issues, but it’s necessary.”
Before departing to Florida, Patty Mills passionately addressed reporters, announcing that he would donate the $1,017,818.54 earned from the eight Spurs games scheduled in Florida to Black Lives Matter Australia, Black Deaths in Custody and the We Got You campaign dedicated to ending racism in Australian sports.
“I’m playing in Orlando because I don’t want to leave any money on the table that could be going directly to Black communities,” Mills said.
Mills went on to draw parallels to what he has experienced here in the United States to Black deaths in his native Australia by focusing on the cases of 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker and 29-year-old Joyce Clark, who were both fatally shot by police.
“I relate very heavily with the African Americans, the Native Americans, the minorities in this country and what they go through,” Mills said. “I say that because obviously on appearance, over here, I’m treated as an African American and then when you get to know me, I guess, you make that connection as an Indigenous person. In my opinion, in my view, Black is Black.”
When the Spurs take the hardwood in Orlando, “Black Lives Matter” will be painted on the court inside both sidelines of all three arenas the team will play in. Players will also have the option to display social justice statements on the backs of their jerseys. Approved messages include “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “Sí Se Puede,” “Say Her Name” and “I Am a Man,” among others.
According to veteran Rudy Gay, Spurs players will likely discuss a collective message of solidarity when they’re finally able to come together in the same gym. While coronavirus cases continue to surge across the country, all eyes will be on the NBA to provide a welcome respite from reality, while staying true to the cause.
“This is our platform,” said Gay. “This is our chance to be able to do whatever it is that we plan on doing, whatever we talk about. This is our chance. We’re going out here to try not to be a distraction to that but uplift those positive people out there trying to create change. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what we’re going out there for. Other than that, it’s just to play and be a good example for our kids and our families.”
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