Kawhi Leonard was matter of fact in his comments when he was asked about the NBA’s social justice messaging and whether or not he or the other players plan on using their jerseys as a social platform when the league’s restart officially gets underway.
In his first press conference since arriving in Orlando and rejoining his team, the Los Angeles Clippers’ superstar, who is averaging 26.9 points and a shade over seven rebounds per game, didn’t mince his words on the subject.
“I mean, for me and my teammates, pretty much everybody — we’re black, so we’ve been dealing with this situation,” Leonard said. “We’ve been giving back to our communities. It’s just broadcasting now since everybody has been in quarantine I feel like. So it’s a big focal point on that when you’re at home watching the news. But I’m just going to continue to do what I’ve been doing, giving back to my community, educating my community, and just keep going from there.”
“What’s happened, what everybody has been saying on the news, it’s been like [that] for me..I’ve been seeing those situations, so it’s nothing new to me, and I’m still going to continue to help and educate people as well as my teammates,” Leonard continued. “It doesn’t matter if we have a statement on the back of our jersey, it’s about doing the work.”
Leonard took a few questions before he was off to his first practice since going through the NBA protocol of isolation for 48 hours. After answering questions related to his health, COVID-19, and whether or not there should be an asterisk tagged to the winners of the NBA Finals, the final question posed to Leonard seems to have a resonating effect to it.
Nowadays, social justice messaging seems to be on the front of just about everybody’s mind as the NBA gets ready for its official restart to the 2019-20 season on July 30. That’s when the Clippers tangle with Staples Center rival and Western Conference Pacific Division foe Los Angeles Lakers.
COVID-19 is at the forefront of any plans that the league has (in terms of success or failure) in being able to pull off having its players play in a bubble from the rest of the world. Some trepidation has set in as the league recently announced that two players tested positive for the coronavirus, but social justice has also been in the back of player’s minds.
With corporate America and the establishment being turned upside down to best address systemic structural racism in the United States, including police violence against Black people, social justice messaging seems to be the “in” trend for people to talk about.
This particular subject especially resonates powerfully in the weeks-long demonstrations all over the country following the death of George Floyd, and the subsequent killings of Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks at the hands of police. In the aftermath of Floyd’s death on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the nation has been a hotbed of demonstrations against police brutality with calls to defund the police and slogans of Black Lives Matter becoming ingrained into America’s consciousness.
Lou Williams, the reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year, and the Clippers go-to scorer when points are needed have been a strong advocate for the league to encompass the voice of the players in its social media dialogue. The league has apparently listened. It has been widely reported that the NBA will paint Black Lives Matter on all basketball courts before play resumes.
It’s a step in the right direction, Williams said during a press conference on Saturday, July 12.
“Yeah, that’s progression,” said Williams. “I’m happy to know that, you know, I work for a company that stands alongside of the minorities that’s in this country and want to make a bold statement like that. Obviously, they have a lot of sponsors and everything as far as sponsorship goes, and some people may not feel that way. But I thought it was important for the NBA to listen to the players and listen to our voices and put the things in motion that we felt strongly about and stand next to us with those issues, so I was really happy about that.”
Of course, the call for social justice has played into the hearts of a lot of athletes, many of whom who took to the streets and voiced their concerns about police violence or police misconduct against people of color, in particular Blacks in this country. The NBA, a sports league dominated with Black players, jumped out in front in regards to the social outrage gripping the country.
“The league and the players are uniquely positioned to have a direct impact on combating systemic racism in our country, and we are committed to collective action to build a more equal and just society,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “A shared goal of our season restart will be to use our platform in Orlando to bring attention to these important issues of social justice.”
Former Clipper star and current Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul had this to say about the matter in a released statement in June.
“The issues of systemic racism and police brutality in our country need to end,” said Paul, president of the NBA Players Association. “As a union of NBA players and as a league, it is our job to use our collective platform to both put a spotlight on those issues and work to effect change. As players, we have taken a leadership role when it comes to using our voices and implementing practical solutions, but there is much work ahead both in Orlando and long-term to continue the momentum and bring about real, long-lasting change to our society.”
According to media reports, there are reportedly 29 terms, statements, or social messages that the NBA gave the OK for players to wear on the back of their jerseys to keep the issue of fighting for social justice as a visual reminder for those tuning in to watch games.
Clippers shooting guard Rodney McGruder chose to put something universal on the back of his jersey.
“I’ve chosen to go with “peace,” and that’s one thing we’ve always spoken for in our country is world peace, so that’s one thing I’m going to use to make my statement during the restart,” McGruder said.
If Clippers coach Doc Rivers had a message about smacking down all the racial inequities in this country it would be that people should do a lot more listening.
“I’ll start with that,” Rivers said. “The first one is being more tolerant and listening and understanding. I mean, we have a senator that Tweets at Woj (ESPN reporter Adrian Wojanrowski) yesterday just because he was talking about what we were going to put on the back of our jersey. And they always try to turn it into the military or the police. There’s no league that does more for the military than the NBA. But how that about that Senator (Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo)? I’ll make a challenge: We will do things for the troops as long as he acknowledges #BlackLivesMatter. I think that would be really cool for him to do.”
“You know, it’s funny, whenever we talk about justice, people try to change the message,” Rivers continued. “Colin Kaepernick kneels; it had nothing to do with the troops. It had to do with social injustice, and everyone tried to change the narrative. How about staying on what we are talking about and dealing with that, instead of trying to trick us or change or trick your constituents? How about being real? I guarantee you, we’ve done more for the military than probably that Senator. And I guarantee you this: We also are going to do things for #BlackLivesMatter. How about him? Maybe he should join into that.”