NBA players have a message for everyone: ‘Justice for Breonna Taylor’
The images are similar. Their faces are somber, and their voices share gravity, concern and sometimes anger.
An NBA player sits in front of a hotel wall, looking at his own image in a screen that is broadcasting his words over a video call. He declines to answer the question that is asked of him because he wants to talk about something else.
How did your shoulder feel, Paul George?
“It felt great but I think most importantly, I take this time to give my condolences to the family of the Taylors, Breonna Taylor rest in peace, George Floyd rest in peace,” George said. “There are so many others out there that have been brutally murdered by the hands of police. That is all I got, that is my message for everyone and that will continue to be my answer.”
The Clippers star was the first player to use a postgame interview for this message in part because he played in the first actual basketball game, albeit an exhibition, in more than four months. But for the last week, NBA players have taken similar approaches in news conferences. Lakers guard Alex Caruso also did so Wednesday after the Lakers practiced, saying he planned to answer any question about basketball with “We need justice for Breonna Taylor.”
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The spread of players speaking about Taylor during news conferences has been organic in some cases and by design in others.
“Just got information from the rest of the players who are trying to stay united with the message,” Caruso said. “This is one way we can control it from inside the bubble. It seems to be an important thing. It’s been four months since it happened that she was murdered in her sleep and nobody has been held accountable.”
Taylor’s story and the subject of a higher percentage of Black Americans experiencing police brutality and killings than white Americans, arises naturally in conversation with players in the bubble. And it’s not just teammates talking to each other.
“We’re here, we see each other, we’re housed in the same areas, it’s very easy for us to come together and do this together, do this collectively,” George said. “… This league is predominantly African American and the people in these situations that are losing their lives are predominantly African Americans so it just comes natural.”
Nuggets forward Jerami Grant started it July 15, answering every question about basketball by a variation of “Breonna Taylor’s murderers are roaming free.”
The list of players mentioning Taylor and the police involved in her death during news conferences — often refusing to discuss anything else — is growing. It includes Philadelphia’s Tobias Harris, whose news conference LeBron James retweeted along with the words “Salute homie!” and the hashtag #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor.
Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Miami’s Solomon Hill, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Milwaukee’s Sterling Brown and Toronto’s Terence Davis also spoke about Taylor. Lakers center Dwight Howard said Taylor’s death was an issue people should be talking about rather than other trivial matters in Orlando.
Portland’s C.J. McCollum and Boston’s Marcus Smart said they both participated in a video call with Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer.
“I’m going to go on the record saying [Kentucky Attorney General] Daniel Cameron’s in position to arrest the cops that are responsible for killing Breonna Taylor and still has to do that,” McCollum said. “ … I think basketball is secondary. It’s our job obviously and we have a responsibility to fulfill those obligations, but it’s also our job to fulfill and protect our neighborhoods. Protect people who look like us and come from places like us that don’t exactly have the same voice that we do.”
Taylor was a 26-year-old Black woman who was an emergency medical technician in Louisville. She was killed in March after plainclothes police officers executed a no-knock warrant by breaking down the door to her home with a battering ram. The warrant stemmed from a narcotics investigation, but no drugs were found in the home.
Taylor’s boyfriend fired a shot at what he believed were intruders breaking into their home, he said. Taylor was shot eight times by the police while she was sleeping.
“It’s painful to see, just the fact that an African American woman can’t be safe in her home is wild,” Mitchell said. “The concept is wild. The fact that there hasn’t been anything done about it is even crazier.”
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Caruso, the only white player on the Lakers, learned of Taylor’s story after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white police officer in Minneapolis kneeled on his neck for nearly 9 minutes. The incident sparked nationwide protests and drew attention to other instances of police brutality, especially against Black Americans.
“It wasn’t until after a bunch of things that I didn’t realize were going on in the world were brought to my attention,” Caruso said.
Players had worried that playing basketball would detract from issues important to them and from the momentum built by protests around the country. In response, the NBA wrote Black Lives Matter on the courts they will play on during these next few weeks. They gave a list of 29 approved social justice slogans they could replace their names with on the backs of their jerseys.
Some of the players speaking about Taylor have chosen jersey slogans — Caruso will wear Black Lives Matter — and some have decided to wear their own names instead. But in speaking about Taylor, no matter what question they’re asked, they’ve taken one part of the messaging into their own hands.
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