While NBA players use the resumption of the season to demand a change, league coaches are not forcing them to go this route alone.
Coaches in the NBA – where most of the players are black and most of the coaches are white – have been active participants in the demand for societal change around the league. The demands came to a head when George Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died when a Minneapolis policeman buried a knee in his neck for several minutes.
“I think it’s just understanding the moment and the movement that’s going on,” said Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce. “That’s what all of our coaches do, and as white coaches they’re not fooled. I think the beauty of our game is that we coach African American men, myself and the white coaches. We are around him. We know our league is predominantly African-American. So why not? If we ask others to be empathetic, I think we all need to empathize.
Pierce isn’t at the NBA reboot at Walt Disney World – the Hawks aren’t one of the 22 teams still playing this season – but he’s been active with regular league coaches Zoom Calls and heads a committee of coaches responsible for knowing how those in the NBA can best help the societal change movement.
He also helped find someone to coach the coaches.
Bryan Stevenson is the Founder and Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative, a community partner of the NBA, and is someone who has spent 30 years lobbying for social justice. He was scheduled to meet with NBA coaches on a Zoom call for half an hour a few weeks ago. The call lasted more than three times as long, and from there a continuous dialogue was born.
“It was fascinating,” Carlisle said of that initial call. “It was an education in itself.”
This is the calendar created by Stevenson’s organization that Carlisle reads every day. The impact of everything Stevenson told coaches that first night continued to resonate.
“You have to believe things that you haven’t seen,” Stevenson said. “Hopefully we can turn this moment into something more than a moment. I mean, desperation is the enemy of justice and injustice prevails where desperation persists. And if NBA coaches believe it and NBA players believe it, then fans can believe it too.
He’s convinced the coaches believe him.
Stevenson has been publicly praised by virtually every coach in the league in recent weeks for helping them educate them on things they never knew. In a league where a handful of coaches – Steve Kerr of Golden State and Gregg Popovich of San Antonio, in particular – are quick to share their political views publicly, this moment has prompted other coaches to use their voices as well.
The NBA got permission to make the documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble” available to all head coaches and assistants this week, and several teams – including the Magic, at Clifford’s request – screened the film. It was also available as a featured film on the Organized Hotel Channel.
“I’m inspired by how this movement still has great endurance, and I think our ability to go out there and keep the conversation alive with our platforms is important,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “The next step that everyone wants to see is lasting, lasting action and change in the areas of systemic racism and social inequality.”
The players are at Disney to compete for a championship, although broader societal issues have not abated since arriving. Jerami Grant of Denver answered five questions in an interview last week and all of his answers, no matter what the subject, revolved around a request for arrest for the murder of Breonna Taylor. Tobias Harris of Philadelphia adopted a similar tactic days later, and Paul George of the Los Angeles Clippers did so after his team’s scrum opened on Wednesday. Russell Westbrook of Houston has a clothing line that will display social justice messages and most players will also wear shirts with similar thoughts printed on the back.
If the players take any action on the pitch during matches, such as kneeling, someone with knowledge of the situation, the coaches have agreed to do the same. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as no plans were announced.
“This is a pivotal moment, in that we have the opportunity to do something transformative if we have the courage,” Popovich said. “And like so much in the world today, interest wanes pretty quickly regardless of the topic. … So the league, the players, the coaches, the staff, everyone is very committed to keeping this front and center in everyone’s consciousness, even though everyone is excited to go and play. This is a great opportunity. ”
At Disney, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is painted on the courts for games. Stevenson believes coaches can have the same impact.
The way NBA commissioner Adam Silver sees it, fans will follow their benchmarks as they watch their various favorite teams – players and coaches. If the NBA talks about and acts on change in existence, he believes fans will apply that same passion to any role they can play in the movement.
“We can use that same desire and hope for racial equality and an end to police violence and justice for communities that have been undermined by unsanitary and dangerous practices and policies,” Stevenson said. “It’s a really powerful thing to imagine. And so, if we can achieve it, yes, I absolutely believe it can be a moment of transformation.