Along with many around the country and in the world of professional sports, the Toronto Raptors were enraged by video of Jacob Blake, a Black man, being shot in the back multiple times by a Wisconsin police officer.
For a team that arrived at the NBA Bubble in a bus reading “Black Lives Matter” on its side, and whose team president, Masai Ujiri, is dealing with a lawsuit and countersuit against a sheriff’s deputy stemming from last year’s NBA Finals, the Raptors understandably are frustrated.
The incident Sunday in Wisconsin led to a team meeting Tuesday before Toronto’s practice to talk about a response that could effect meaningful change in the fight against racism and police brutality.
And according to Malika Andrews and Tim Bontemps of ESPN, sitting out of Game 1 of the Raptors’ second-round series against the Boston Celtics was considered.
“We knew coming here or not coming here was not going to stop anything, but I think ultimately playing or not playing puts pressure on somebody,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said after Tuesday’s practice, via ESPN.
“So, for example, this happened in Kenosha, Wisconsin, if I’m correct? 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 our nuts on the line and actually put something up to lose, rather than just money or visibility. I’m just over the media aspect of it. It’s sensationalized, we talk about it everyday, that’s all we see, but it just feels like a big pacifier to me.”
The NBA has made it a point to keep attention on these societal issues during its return. But after this weekend, players believe that simply discussing these issues in media press conferences and writing “Black Lives Matter” on the court is not enough.
“And then us, too, we’ve gotta take responsibility as well,” VanVleet said. “Like, what are we willing to give us? Do we actually give a (expletive) about what’s going on, or is it just cool to wear ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the backdrop, or wear a T-shirt? Like, what does that really mean? Is it really doing anything?”
Whether Toronto will boycott Game 1 of the NBA playoffs is to be determined, but VenVleet said they’ve riffed about ways the team can take a more serious stand.
“I’ll keep that between our team,” VanVleet said. “We’re dealing with it in real time, and I think it affects everybody differently. It’s pretty fresh on my mind, and I’m sitting in front of a camera, so I’m just speaking as I’m going. But, yeah, there’s a lot of different things that we’ve discussed.”
Game 1 is set for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET.