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Lakers speak out on Jacob Blake shooting, other teams discuss pausing play to protest

Lakers forward LeBron James looks on before Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series.
Lakers forward LeBron James warms up before Game 4 against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday.
(Kim Klement / Associated Press)

The morning after LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma spoke passionately about their reaction to police in Kenosha, Wis., shooting a Black man named Jacob Blake in the back, their coach gathered the Lakers to address the incident.

Frank Vogel thought back to a recent talk the Lakers arranged for the team with John Carlos, now 75, who considered boycotting the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City but participated with the intent to protest on the medal stand. He finished third in the 200-meter race, while fellow Black American Tommie Smith won. Each raised a fist while wearing a black glove with their heads bowed on the medal stand.

Carlos told the Lakers that he trained with the goal of winning a medal so that he could conduct this protest, Vogel said. In the wake of Blake’s shooting, Vogel connected that message to the Lakers’ goals.

“It’s disheartening and disturbing for all of us, and it’s difficult to digest and go play a game,” Vogel said. “But it’s OK to align our goals here, with regard to we’re here to compete for a championship, but the further we advance in the playoffs, the further our platform to speak up on this grows. And I think it’s important for our guys to understand that.”

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The Lakers prepared Tuesday for what could be their final game against the Portland Trail Blazers in their first-round playoff series. They are leading the best-of-seven series 3-1 and Portland star Damian Lillard will not play due to a sprained right knee. But as they did so, the Lakers grappled with pain, anger and desire to make change, just as the rest of the league did.

“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.”

Some players found it difficult to focus on basketball.

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“I’m in a different place today just emotionally speaking,” Toronto guard Fred VanVleet said. “… Would it be nice if, in a perfect world, we all say we’re not playing, and the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks — that’s going to trickle down. If he steps up to the plate and puts pressure on the district attorney’s office, and state’s attorney, and governors and politicians there to make real change and get some justice.

“I know it’s not that simple. But, at the end of the day, if we’re gonna sit here and talk about making change, then at some point we’re gonna have to put [ourselves] on the line and actually put something up to lose, rather than just money or visibility.”

The Raptors are scheduled to start their Eastern Conference semifinal series against Boston on Thursday, and both teams had players discuss if continuing to play was the right thing. Celtics guard Jaylen Brown posted on Twitter that he wanted to go protest.

“The question that I would like to ask is: Does America think Black people or people of color are uncivilized, savages or naturally unjust?” Brown said. “Or are we products of the environments that we participate in? that’s the question I would like to ask to America. And America has proven its answer over and over and over again. Are we not human beings? Is Jacob Blake not a human being?”

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“I don’t care if he did something 10 years ago, 10 days ago or 10 minutes ago. If he served his sentence and he was released back into society he still deserves to be treated like a human and not deserve to be shot in the back seven times with the intent to kill. His kids will never unsee that. His family will never unsee that. And frankly I will never unsee it.”

Police have not said if Blake, whose family said he was intervening in a domestic dispute, had a weapon or why police fired. They gave no details on whether Blake was involved in the domestic dispute.

Oklahoma City guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said he couldn’t bring himself to watch the video.

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“I’ve seen things from my perspective from both sides — from the police side and from the Black side. And it just has to get better, honestly,” the Lakers’ Davis said. “But like Bron said, you seen things that make you afraid of the police, for sure. And it kind of just stays with you as you grow up. … It kind of just carries with you for your life, but what you see with the current events going on today, it just make you go back to your childhood and remember why you’re afraid.”

Vogel said that while he hadn’t heard talk from the Lakers about not playing, he would have understood that sentiment. It hasn’t been the Lakers’ mentality at any point this summer. They have felt that they needed to play basketball and that they could make a difference while doing that.

“I got half of my brain locked in on the playoffs and the other half locked in on how I can help Black people become greater in America,” James said. “And that’s what it’s all about.”

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