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Lakers fall short against Spurs in game where humanity was on display

Lakers' Anthony Davis splits the defense of the San Antonio Spurs.
Anthony Davis splits the defense of the San Antonio Spurs in the first quarter on Thursday at Staples Center.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Gregg Popovich, basketball coach for the San Antonio Spurs and human being, and Frank Vogel, also a basketball coach and human being, locked arms Thursday under the scoreboard at center court inside a mostly empty Staples Center.

The men were joined by their players, their assistant coaches and the game’s officials, a demonstration the result of continued dissatisfaction with racism in America. Basketball would be played, but it would happen on their terms after their symbol of solidarity.

Before the Spurs beat the Lakers 118-109, Popovich denounced what happened Wednesday in Washington, laying blame at the feet of a president he’s never been shy of criticizing.

“Citizens can have opinions,” Popovich said before using almost 900 words to explain his.

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Vogel was more economical — 150 words or so — with the same message — there is right and there is wrong, and they want to be on the side of right.

“It’s a problem. We’re working to change things,” Vogel said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. But what we saw in the last two days with the Jacob Blake ruling and the events at the U.S. Capitol were just very disheartening and saddening and it was just the inequality and the double standard on full display. And it’s not right.”

The Lakers and Spurs link arms for the national anthem.
The Lakers and Spurs link arms for the national anthem before a game on Thursday at Staples Center.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

LeBron James used four words — “Do you understand now” — that were printed on the shirt he wore into the building and written on the sneakers he played in.

The volume in the dissatisfaction from NBA players, coaches and referees has varied, especially since the strife and strain of 2020. They’ve respectfully and quietly kneeled pregame during the national anthem, they’ve turned postgame news conferences into tearful testimonials about discrimination and jerseys, and courts have been turned into platforms for social justice.

The images of largely white crowds of people storming the Capitol building and, in some cases, posing for photos with law enforcement or receiving aid down the building’s stairs starkly contrasted images from a summer filled with unrest after the killings of unarmed Black people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

“It just laid bare the blatant, dangerous, debilitating racism that is our country’s sin and that has plagued us all of these years. There can’t be a better obvious example of a system that is not fair, as far as justice and equal rights are concerned and protection of citizens,” Popovich said. “It was just right in your face. And anybody that can ignore that is a shameful individual in my opinion. It’s hard to deny that.”

It was hard to separate the ugliness from the week and the game, even though there were no in-play demonstrations.

San Antonio scored the first nine points of the game and never trailed. The Spurs, who have been in Los Angeles since Monday, got 28 from LaMarcus Aldridge and 19 from DeMar DeRozan. And the Lakers fought back behind 27 points and 12 assists from James and 23 points and 10 rebounds from Anthony Davis, eventually tying the score late in the third at 89.

Clippers, Golden State Warriors, and other NBA players react to Wednesday’s protesting events at the U.S. Capitol.

But the Lakers’ defense was too slow too often in the fourth while their offense went cold, with Dennis Schroder and Wesley Matthews combining to shoot four for 17 on the night while the team played without Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for the third straight game because of an ankle injury.

After the game, Davis and James aired their frustrations, with James passionately trying to explain why Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol was so disheartening.

“We live in two Americas,” James said bluntly. “And that was a prime example of that yesterday. And if you don’t understand that or don’t see that after seeing what you saw yesterday, then you really need to take a step back — not even just one step, but maybe four or five, or even 10 steps backwards.”

James said the mob attack was a direct result of President Trump’s actions. “Hate comes from the house. Everything that goes on comes from the household of people just hating and hating and hating,” James said. “And, obviously, that came from the president in that house now. It’s the reason why America is in the s—hole.”

The hope from people like Popovich, Vogel and James is that the country can improve, that their voices can make a difference.

Popovich has seen James do that. “I think he’s going to be an iconic figure. Nobody can be what Muhammad Ali was, as far as sport is concerned — but in that same genre. I’m so proud of this guy and so pleased for him that from the time he came in as a teenager to see his development … as a human being, as a citizen, as someone who looks at the social issues at our time and is willing to speak out about them,” Popovich said.


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