This was supposed to be a night in which the Los Angeles Lakers paid homage and celebrate the life and the legacy of Kobe Bryant. Then the Jacob Blake shooting happened Sunday evening the day of what would have been Bryant’s 42nd birthday. That changed everything for LeBron James and the rest of the Lakers.
Already dealing with heavy hearts as they continue to think about the memory of Bryant who perished in a helicopter crash in late January, along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven other people, another immediate call for social justice took center stage once James and the Lakers found out about the shooting of Blake, an unarmed Black man being shot multiple times in front of his children by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
After the Lakers had defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 135-115 in Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series, forward Kyle Kuzma was in no mood to talk about game semantics. Kuzma opened his media availability press conference with a statement related to the shooting of Blake before he fielded one question.
“It’s such a terrible situation that we’re going through in this country still after so many years of this. It’s kind of depressing for a man to get shot seven times by the cops; unarmed in front of his kids that his kids will probably remember for the rest of their lives,” Kuzma said. “That’s scary, not only for me but for every African American, every minority in this country. It’s just something that we need to continue to work on as a society for change because, quite frankly, it’s disgusting to have multiple cops around and not even think about a taser. Forget the taser; just simple combat, taking a man down instead of trying to shooting him. That has to change. [That] has to change.”
The Blake shooting is sure to cause more angst and despair for a nation reeling from social justice protests that followed the video-captured murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer which set off a chain reaction of protests here and abroad. The low-key killing of Breonna Taylor, a Black emergency medical technician by Louisville Metro Police Officers executing a no-knock warrant in the middle of the night on March 13, is now a national topic of discussion.
“It’s disheartening and disgusting to talk about,” Kuzma said. “Every time you go on social media, every time you go on Twitter, you see somebody dying. That’s bulls–t. I get ramped up talking about it. We need to have more accountability from police departments for training guys to policing the right way. We need to put that accountability on like I said, the local and state officials from each state, to make the right decisions. We’re tired of it.”
James, the Lakers, as well as other NBA and WNBA players have used this bubble format they’re playing in as a platform to speak out against the Floyd murder, the death of Taylor, and other social injustices against Black Americans and people of color. Addressing police brutality has been at the top of that checklist for justice. And now, James, as well as other NBA and WNBA players, have an added layer of that burden to speak out against.
Like Floyd’s murder, Blake’s shooting was caught on video by a bystander who witnessed the incident. The video footage shows Blake walking and trying to enter his vehicle when an officer grabbed the back of his t-shirt and unloaded multiple bullets into the father of six.
“If you’re sitting here and you’re telling me that there was no way to seduce that gentleman or detain him or to just…before the firing of guns, then you’re sitting here and you’re lying-not only to me, you’re lying to every African American, every Black person in the community, because we see it over and over and over,” James said. “If you watch the video, there were multiple moments where if they wanted to they could have tackled him. They could have grabbed him. They could have done that. Why does it have to get to a point where we see the guns firing. His family is there. The kids are there. It’s in broad daylight. Who knows? If that video is not being taken by that person across the street do we even know, do we see that video? Like there’s talks that the cops didn’t have their body cams on. That’s a possibility. Quite frankly, it’s just f-cked up in our community. ”
That’s not the only message that James delivered in his postgame press conference.
“I know people get tired of hearing me say it, but we are scared as Black people in America,” James said. “Black men, Black women, Black kids…we are terrified because you don’t know. You have no idea. You have no idea how that cop that day left the house. You don’t know if he woke up on the good side of the bed. You don’t know if he woke up on the bad side of the bed. You don’t know if he had an argument at home with his significant other. You don’t know if his kids said something crazy to him and he left the house steaming or maybe he just left the house saying that today is going to be the end for one of these Black people. That’s what it feels like. That’s what it feels like. It hurts. It hurts, and it’s by the grace of God that he’s still living. Seven shots? At close range? And he’s still alive? That’s through the grace of God right there. My prayers go out to that family and that community, but I’ve got nothing nice to say about those cops at all.”
The Lakers’ dominant win against the Trail Blazers seems almost moot at this point. The shooting of Blake has gone viral. Protesters have already taken to the streets in Wisconsin. As a team, as a unit, the Lakers now have a multiple-pronged front to address. There is the matter of chasing a possible franchise 17th NBA championship. But until that champagne moment can take place, the Lakers and the rest of America must confront and deal with yet again another shooting of an unarmed Black person.
“It just has to get better,” Lakers forward Anthony Davis said. “Like ‘Bron said, like growing up you see things that kind of makes you afraid of the police, for sure. It kind of just stays with you as you grow up. Obviously, with what’s going on now and what happened today with Jacob Blake, was just totally unacceptable. We definitely want to use our voices for that.”
In the middle of all of this going on, James and the organization still managed to pay tribute to Bryant. The Lakers wore Black Mamba uniforms as they took the floor in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series against the Blazers to honor the NBA giant.
It’s been an honor just to put on a Lakers uniform even before the passing of the great Kobe Bryant,” Lakers forward LeBron James said after the Lakers’ 135-115 win against the Trail Blazers. “Tonight was one of those moments for myself, for this organization, for all the players who able to wear those uniforms that was inspired by him and his mind and his creativity. So for us to go out there and one day removed from his birthday and then his day of 8-24, to be able to have a game on this day, the stars aligned.”