Cypress Hill was right.
The Toronto Raptors guard was asked Monday what he thought of the protests happening in major cities across the United States following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He was killed after a police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes and ignored his cries of distress.
“It’s really unfortunate, but what’s even more unfortunate is I think we’ve seen this movie before, and I think people are tired,” VanVleet said. “People are tired of the racism, and of discrimination and abuse.
“Unfortunately this man had to lose his life, but I think it was a boiling point and people are just fed up, and I think it’s time for a change and everybody’s seeing that.”
Floyd, a black man who was in handcuffs at the time, died after police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, ignored bystander shouts to get off him and Floyd’s cries that he couldn’t breathe.
An autopsy commissioned for Floyd’s family found that Floyd of asphyxiation due to neck and back compression, the family’s lawyers said Monday.
Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
VanVleet’s comments come a day after Raptors president Masai Ujiri said in a Globe and Mail column that conversations about racism can no longer be avoided.
“The curtains are being pulled back and you can see everything for what it is. See who stands where,” VanVleet said from his home in Rockford, Ill.
“We’re going to have to move forward through this eventually, but right now there’s just a lot of emotion, and rightfully so. We’re talking about hundreds of years of pain and suffering for an entire culture of people.”
The Toronto Raptors veteran posted his thoughts to Instagram late Sunday night, wondering how to make sense of abhorrent incidents of racial injustice for his two sons, Karter and Kameron.
“How can I explain to my four-year-old and eight-year-old that being black in [America] comes with a chance you can be harmed or killed just because of the colour of your skin, the texture of your hair, the way you walk, anything they might want to say that makes you black,” Lowry wrote.
“It’s sad because I can’t explain it. I will protect them until the day I die the best I can, but it’s going to be a time when I’m not there to take the fall for them so I’m trying to find a way to say just survive!!!! #blacklivesmatter”
The league’s activism has been selective, the N.B.A.’s critics note. It began the season in October with an international incident after a Houston Rockets executive expressed support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, causing a protracted debate over whether league executives and players caved to China’s anger over it.
The N.B.A. also has a rule requiring that players stand during the national anthem, effectively banning them from kneeling, the very issue that has been a headache for the N.F.L. because of Colin Kaepernick. That dispute resurfaced after the N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell, issued a statement on Saturday that some players on social media found lacking self-awareness.
But on the subject of the relationship between African-American communities and law enforcement, N.B.A. figures have been much more eager to weigh in and do more — some even feeling a sense of profound obligation to express what they see as grievous injustice.
In response to Floyd’s death, coaches and players have lined up to provide statements, as have teams, some in blunt terms. The Washington Wizards released a statement from its players that said — in capital letters — “WE WILL NO LONGER TOLERATE THE ASSASSINATION OF PEOPLE OF COLOR IN THIS COUNTRY,” adding, “WE WILL NO LONGER ACCEPT THE ABUSE OF POWER FROM LAW ENFORCEMENT.”
In a message to league employees on Sunday, Commissioner Adam Silver said, “Racism, police brutality and racial injustice remain part of everyday life in America and cannot be ignored,” adding, “We will work hand-in-hand to create programs and build partnerships in every N.B.A. community that address racial inequity and bring people together.”
These statements were notable because specific mentions of law enforcement were conspicuously missing from many corporate statements released last week.
In a typical season, N.B.A. players would be able to express themselves at actual games, like in 2014, when many players wore “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts during warm-ups, a reference to Eric Garner, a black man who died in Staten Island after an officer used a chokehold. Or in 2012, when members of the Miami Heat posted pictures of the team wearing hoodies in response to the death of Trayvon Martin.
“I’ve never seen less arguing in a serious pickup game,” said Adam Keefe, a former N.B.A. power forward, who lives in Southern California but joins The Run whenever he travels to New York for his job in finance. “It’s kind of like the unwritten rule: Don’t argue about anything. People who do argue are kind of not allowed back.”
The Run’s roots date to the early 1980s, when Lee became childhood friends with the Feigin brothers. They called themselves “The Magic Three” as middle school teammates on the Upper East Side. After college, Dan Feigin got a job at Trevor teaching English and coaching sports, which meant one important thing: He had access to a gymnasium in New York City, where indoor hoops are more precious than parking spaces.
“I thought I’d hit the jackpot,” Feigin said. “That was my dream of dreams when I was a kid: Oh, my God. I’ve got the keys to a gym.”
His brother and Lee were just as excited. One Saturday, they gathered with some of their other pals — including d’Amboise, who had been playing hoops with them for years — and The Run was born. None could have anticipated how it would grow over the years, or the motley crew of characters who would be drawn to it.
“I always joke that we could run a country,” d’Amboise said.
Every Wednesday, Dan Feigin, now the director of Trevor’s Upper School on the Upper East Side, sends a mass email to determine who will be playing that weekend. There are follow-up emails if his friends are slow to respond. But usually, The Run comprises a core group of 15 to 20 players who range from 16 to 58 years old.
Feigin is in charge of divvying up the five-man teams at the start of the session — and typically includes himself on the strongest squad. (There are perks to being commissioner.) The first game goes to 9 points, and every game after that goes to 7. Since 3-pointers are worth 2 points and 2-pointers are only worth 1, there is a strong premium on outside shooting. Defenders are responsible for calling fouls. There is an honor system.
“If someone kills you, they’ll give you the ball,” Dan Feigin said.
Alex Woodhouse, 34, a photographer and musician who was a three-year starter at Colgate, joined the game in his mid-20s at the urging of a friend. Woodhouse had no idea what to expect. He was unfamiliar with Lasry, then his friend filled him in.
But there is an inextricable link from Kaepernick’s silent protest nearly four years ago to the violent civil unrest since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week. Kaepernick took a knee to denounce police brutality. Floyd died after a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck.
Kaepernick, whose charitable arm has offered to pay for legal aid for Minneapolis protesters, went unsigned following that 2016 season. His protest became even more charged in subsequent years, when President Trump called players like him who kneel a “son of a bitch,” and the country’s most popular sport was pitted at the center of a polarizing, national feud. After he accused the league’s owners of colluding to keep him off the field, Kaepernick settled his grievance with the NFL for less than $10 million.
Some celebrated Kaepernick for using his platform to call attention to such an important issue. Others swore they’d never watch an NFL game again because they deemed the gesture unpatriotic.
“I vividly remember the Colin Kaepernick conversations. ‘Don’t ever disrespect the flag’ was the phrase that I heard over and over again,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores, one of the NFL’s few black head coaches, said in a statement. “This idea that players were kneeling in support of social justice was something some people couldn’t wrap their head around.”
Now the league that Kaepernick accused of colluding to keep him off the field is part of the reckoning. Joe Lockhart, the former chief of communications for the NFL, wrote in a column published by CNN that he once believed the league had done a righteous job by Kaepernick.
“I was wrong,” Lockhart wrote. “Watching what’s going on in Minnesota, I understand how badly wrong we were.”
A spokesman for the NFL said Kaepernick remains a free agent and any team is free to sign him. “The protesters’ reactions to these incidents reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement over the weekend. “As current events dramatically underscore, there remains much more to do as a country and as a league.”
Some NFL players, like Reid, not only joined Kaepernick’s protest but continued to kneel while he remained an unsigned free agent. Others had already carried out a similar message: in 2014, St. Louis Rams players came onto the field with their hands up when “Hands up, don’t shoot” became a rallying cry in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson.
“This stuff is very real for them,” said Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African American studies at Duke University. “It’s been very real for them for most of their lives.”
On and off the court, seen as different
I received one technical foul in my entire childhood basketball career.
I was in the eighth grade when I matched up with a small, blond-haired point guard during one game. He wore a green No. 2. In the third quarter, I got a steal, and sprinted down the opposite end of the floor. As I went up for a layup, he contested me.
Mid-air, I heard him grunt, “Nigger!” This marked the first time I’d ever been called the n-word — a Christian youth league basketball game in Chino Hills, Calif.
I muscled through contact and hit an off-hand layup. (Should’ve been a foul.) Following the basket, in a fit of rage, I lashed out as much as I figured I could in that situation. No punches. Just a flex, a staredown and a very loud, “WHAT’S UP, 2?!”
Whistle. Technical foul, No. 4 in white.
My dad, my team’s coach, thought I’d just shown some emotion, but I was heated. I went to the sideline infuriated, explaining and pleading. It didn’t matter. I remember we won the game. I remember afterward, the kid’s mom had him apologize to me. He was suited up and playing for his team the next weekend, though.
I felt a jolt — that burning passion — throughout the following days. We had won. I had made the bucket. They had the kid cheaply reconcile with me. But it had been a moment where I continued wondering, was it worth opening my mouth? Did I get the justice I desired?
Fast-forward five years later. It’s December 2015, a year after Tamir Rice and Michael Brown were murdered.
No, NBA voices should resonate, will resonate following tragedies like Floyd because so many of them were Floyd. “It’s funny how people think I’ve been rich all my life … I don’t deal with what they do … I don’t get racially profiled … all because I made it to the league,” tweeted Wizards guard Bradley Beal. Before LeBron James was battling Michael Jordan for GOAT status, he battled poverty in Akron, Ohio, moving a dozen times before he was nine years old, waking up many mornings wondering when his next meal would come. As a child, Beal was called the n-word coming out of gym class. In a statement, Pistons coach Dwane Casey recounted feeling helpless as an eight-year old child growing up in predominantly white rural Kentucky. Looking for something more recent? In 2018, Bucks guard Sterling Brown was arrested and Tasered for parking in a handicap space.
There’s an eagerness to assign sweeping blame in these situations. It’s the police, the officer who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck and the three others that did nothing to stop him. But for every officer out there with no business wearing a badge, there are many that do, people who answer 911 calls and run toward danger. It’s the media, the storytellers, a belief that brought some to the steps of the CNN building in Atlanta, smashing windows and defacing and vandalizing the company logo. It’s the protesters, though each day we learn many aren’t really protesters. Minnesota officials estimated that 80% of the rioters there were from outside the state; in New York, one in seven of those arrested were from outside the city, per an NYPD analysis.
NBA players, at least the most visible ones, aren’t doing that. They are leading. Prominent WNBA players, too. In Minnesota, Jackson urged people to “make these men pay for what they’ve done to my brother and keep the peace.” Mystics guard Natasha Cloud encouraging, nay demanding in an op-ed for people to speak out. In San Antonio, Spurs forward Lonnie Walker scrubbing graffiti off the walls of local businesses. In Georgia, Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon—an Atlanta native whose grandfather marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in the 60’s—told the crowd, “This is a moment.”
An internal email was sent out to Madison Square Garden employees on Monday addressing the lack of a public statement regarding the outrage following the death of George Floyd.
“We know that some of you have asked about whether our company is going to make a public statement about the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer,” the email, which was obtained by ESPN, began. “I want you to know, I realize the importance of this issue. Therefore, I want you to understand our internal position.
“This is a turbulent time in our country. The coronavirus and civil unrest have taken their toll on our way of life. We at Madison Square Garden stand by our values of respect and peaceful workplace. We always will.
“As companies in the business of sports and entertainment, however, we are not any more qualified than anyone else to offer our opinion on social matters.”
The Knicks and the San Antonio Spurs were the only NBA teams to have not made public statements following Floyd’s death, as of 8:30 p.m. ET on Monday.
For those teams left out of the playoffs, there has already been dialogue on the possibility of mandatory summer training camps and regional fall leagues of four to five teams that could bridge the lengthy gap between seasons, sources told ESPN. Those are ideas many teams consider vital, and there’s an expectation that the NBA will raise possible scenarios such as these with the players’ association, sources said.
“The message was something bigger, reminding people that some teams can’t just reopen the doors in nine or 10 months and so easily sell tickets or a sponsorship without having played basketball for that long,” one high-level Eastern Conference official on the call told ESPN.
Between now and Thursday’s vote of the board of governors on the plan to restart the season, the NBA is working to complete the details of a 22-team format for Orlando.
A three-fourths majority of the 30 teams is required for a plan’s passage, but owners expect unanimous support for whatever form the NBA’s final proposal takes, sources said. They are lining up behind Silver to back the league and National Basketball Players Association’s ultimate plan — even as they wait on the final details to be agreed upon with the NBPA.
Use your voice.
Use your platform.”
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) June 2, 2020
“The first thing we both say: ‘Man, who’s your dad?'” Jackson told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated on Monday, one week to the day after Floyd died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. “And just from that, from looking alike and from that day forward, we just had a bond. We became tight.”
The chance encounter through a mutual friend years ago in Houston led to a new nickname for Floyd, “twin,” and later to a new calling for Jackson as a vocal leader for the black community after he spoke at a rally for Floyd last week in the Twin Cities.
“How did I get this role?” Jackson said in an interview with Spears on Instagram Live. “Like, I’m honest with you: I did not expect to have the role and to have so many people waiting to see what I have to say and what’s the next move. Like, I didn’t ask to be in this position, but I’m embracing it. I’m embracing it.”
The panel of ESPN experts not only believe Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse should win, but he will win Coach of the Year in 2020.
Who should win Coach of the Year ESPN experts poll:
Nick Nurse | Toronto Raptors (59% first-place votes)
Billy Donovan | Oklahoma City Thunder (24%)
Mike Budenholzer | Milwaukee Bucks (6%)
Taylor Jenkins | Memphis Grizzlies(3%)
Erik Spoelstra | Miami Heat (3%)
Who will win Coach of the Year ESPN experts poll:
Nick Nurse: 53%
Billy Donovan: 18%
Mike Budenholzer: 18%
Frank Vogel: 6%
Despite losing Leonard, the Raptors somehow became a more efficient team down the stretch of tight games. In fact, they’ve been better than ever.
In the final five minutes and score within five points, the Raptors are pouring in 121.5 points per 100 possessions, second in the NBA and significantly better than last season’s team, which hovered around league average. Despite Leonard’s exploits, Toronto as a whole ranked just 15th in the regular season in clutch-time offensive rating, one spot below the Charlotte Hornets. That number improved in the postseason, though perhaps not quite as much as you might expect given the handful of Superman moments in which Leonard busted out of the phone booth cape in tow to save the day.
If this proud bunch is outperforming the best team in franchise history, it might then come as no shock that this unit is likewise sprinting past every other Raptors team too. If you go through every season in Raptors history, that sizzling 121.5 ranks as – by far – the best in team history.
Up until this point, Toronto had only finished in the top five in clutch-time offensive rating one time. That came back in 2009-10, Chris Bosh’s final season when the team limped to a 40-42 record that would have been worse had it not been for some unusually inspired play late in close games.
On the other end of the ball, Toronto remains disciplined when it matters the most, ranking 10th league-wide in clutch-time defensive rating. And while defence remains the defending champs’ calling card, it’s the offensive end of the floor where the Raptors have brought home the bacon in the biggest of spots.
All without Leonard.