CHOOS­ING TO TAKE IT HIGHER

Sky’s new cam­paign will help lo­cal groups through their scor­ing

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - MADE­LINE KEN­NEY mken­ney@suntimes.com | @mad­ken­ney

The Sky made a pact for this sea­son: Any­thing they were go­ing to do, they would do it to­gether. The agree­ment ap­plied to the team’s de­ci­sion to en­ter the WNBA bub­ble in Braden­ton, Florida, as well as join­ing the league in ded­i­cat­ing the sea­son to so­cial jus­tice.

How­ever, Sky play­ers knew they wanted to do more than what the league was al­ready plan­ning.

Over the last two months, the team has col­lec­tively been brain­storm­ing ways to use its grow­ing plat­form to con­tinue the con­ver­sa­tion about sys­temic racism — es­pe­cially lo­cally in the Chicago area — while go­ing be­yond just rais­ing aware­ness.

“What kind of dif­fer­ence can we make?” for­ward Gabby Wil­liams said the play­ers asked them­selves.

After much de­lib­er­a­tion among team­mates with for­mer Bears line­backer Sam Acho, the founder and pres­i­dent of Ath­letes for Jus­tice, Sky play­ers un­veiled Tues­day — be­fore their 96-78 win against the Sparks — how they’re go­ing to do that.

Led by Wil­liams and guard Di­a­mond DeShields, they launched a new so­cial jus­tice cam­paign, “Sky Takes Ac­tion,” in which play­ers will do­nate their own money — based on game-day per­for­mance — to five lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions: By the Hand Club for Kids, BYP100, The Move­ment for Black Lives (M4BL), Fire­house Com­mu­nity Arts Cen­ter of Chicago and Fu­ture Ties.

The plan is to do­nate $10 for each point scored and an ad­di­tional $100 for each win and $50 for each loss. Wil­liams said the do­na­tions will be split equally from all play­ers, who will pool their money ev­ery few weeks.

After Sun­day’s thrilling 88-86 vic­tory against the Aces, the Sky have al­ready raised $980 for char­ity. They hope their do­na­tions will be matched by fans and spon­sors and are en­cour­ag­ing fans to join the con­ver­sa­tion us­ing the hash­tag #SkyTakesAc­tion. Sky play­ers are also in dis­cus­sion with the team’s own­er­ship group to see if they might con­trib­ute as well.

The Sky will pro­mote the cam­paign through­out the sea­son, with play­ers wear­ing spe­cial warmups and gear. The team’s web­site will also be col­lect­ing do­na­tions.

Wil­liams said the team also plans to auc­tion off game-worn items, ex­clu­sive Face­Time calls with play­ers and more.

“This is a mo­ment where we can ed­u­cate peo­ple on how they can make a dif­fer­ence, be­cause I think now, at least in my life­time, we as a coun­try are just so mo­ti­vated,” Wil­liams said. “We’re so an­gry — we can’t be­lieve it’s still hap­pen­ing, and ev­ery­body doesn’t want his­tory to re­peat it­self. So I think that’s part of this ini­tia­tive, too, is teach­ing peo­ple about these or­ga­ni­za­tions, be­cause I think you can make the most dif­fer­ence lo­cally, so we’re teach­ing peo­ple how and where they can vol­un­teer, how they can get ed­u­cated, and it goes be­yond rais­ing money and aware­ness.”

“THIS IS A MO­MENT WHERE WE CAN ED­U­CATE PEO­PLE ON HOW THEY CAN MAKE A DIF­FER­ENCE, BE­CAUSE I THINK NOW, AT LEAST IN MY LIFE­TIME, WE AS A COUN­TRY ARE JUST SO MO­TI­VATED.” GABBY WIL­LIAMS, Sky for­ward and co-leader of new char­ity cam­paign

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The news reached the NBA cam­pus as quickly as a fast­ball over the plate. Ma­jor League Base­ball post­poned two games Mon­day after 14 Mar­lins play­ers and staff tested pos­i­tive for the coro­n­avirus. The next day, Mar­lins games were called off through Sun­day. Should that leave the NBA wor­ried it could strike out on try­ing to re­sume its sea­son? Or should it make the league more con­fi­dent it can hit a home run?

“I don’t even com­pare the two,” Clip­pers coach Doc Rivers said. “What they’re do­ing and what we’re do­ing is so dif­fer­ent. I like what we’re do­ing.”

Why is that? While MLB teams are still trav­el­ing by plane, NBA teams are all in the “bub­ble” at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Com­plex. While the Mar­lins re­port­edly de­cided by player text vote to re­sume de­spite hav­ing a handful of pos­i­tive COVID-19 cases, the NBA has de­ter­mined how teams will han­dle both pos­i­tive tests and bro­ken rules. NBA play­ers are sub­jected to daily COVID-19 test­ing while MLB play­ers are tested ev­ery other day. And with so­cial-dis­tanc­ing pro­to­cols in place, the NBA de­signed a plan that would re­duce the chances it would whiff as MLB has.

“I wasn’t sure if I was go­ing to feel safe here, and I feel su­per safe,” Pel­i­cans guard J.J. Redick said. “This is an en­vi­ron­ment here [that] I feel has been re­ally good . . . . It’s hard to com­pare what base­ball or the NFL is do­ing be­cause it’s not what we’re do­ing. We’re do­ing some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent. But ob­vi­ously, we’re all watch­ing to see how base­ball and foot­ball work, given the un­cer­tainty of next sea­son as well.”

The NBA has pen­ciled in Dec. 1 as the start of the 2020-21 sea­son, but that date is sub­ject to change for many rea­sons. The play­ers’ union be­lieves it gives the 22 teams par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Or­lando restart too lit­tle time to re­cover from this sea­son, which starts Thurs­day and is sched­uled to go through mid-Oc­to­ber. Com­mis­sioner Adam Sil­ver has also said it isn’t sus­tain­able to play in a cam­pus bub­ble for all of next sea­son be­cause of the cost and ex­tended time away from fam­i­lies. So the NBA will mon­i­tor how well the NFL and col­lege foot­ball can host games this fall — with or without fans — be­fore pro­ceed­ing.

In the mean­time, the league has cre­ated an al­ter­na­tive uni­verse that hardly re­sem­bles how the rest of the coun­try op­er­ates. When the NBA an­nounced last week that zero out of 346 play­ers tested pos­i­tive for COVID-19, Rivers joked that “maybe we should send our plan to the White House.”

Those in NBA cir­cles are not ready to run a vic­tory lap, though. The league knows it could take one iso­lated case or a small se­ries of events to com­pletely un­ravel ev­ery­thing.

“What we’re do­ing is work­ing — Adam, the staff and the league have done a phe­nom­e­nal job with keep­ing us safe and healthy,” Wiz­ards coach Scott Brooks said. “But we can’t re­lax and let our guard down. You have to do it ev­ery day. You can’t have an off day. For­tu­nately, I have not seen any­body without a mask or not so­ciald­is­tanc­ing with non-mem­bers of our team.”

Un­for­tu­nately, other teams can­not say the same thing. About two weeks ago, some­one called the cam­pus hot­line to re­port Lak­ers cen­ter Dwight Howard had not worn a mask. While he ac­knowl­edged the value in wear­ing one out of the cam­pus bub­ble, Howard ques­tioned the need for it in­side the bub­ble, de­spite the Lak­ers’ re­peated at­tempts to ex­plain the rules. The in­ci­dent show­cased that the NBA for­mu­lated its pro­to­cols to ad­dress hu­man be­hav­ior.

“You can tell there’s a lot of struc­ture,” Clip­pers for­ward Joakim Noah said. “These are some of the sac­ri­fices we have to make right now in or­der to play bas­ket­ball. It’s not easy for any­body. But at the end of the day, we un­der­stand why we’re here. It’s a bless­ing to play bas­ket­ball.”

CHICAGO SKY

Sky play­ers wear warmup shirts bear­ing the name of po­lice shoot­ing vic­tim Bre­onna Tay­lor and the words “Say her name” be­fore their sea­son opener Sun­day.

ASHLEE REZIN GAR­CIA/SUN-TIMES

Com­mis­sioner Adam Sil­ver and the NBA are se­ri­ous about their virus pro­to­cols.

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