Why Floyd’s death has resonated within NBA
Legions of fans have been waiting for months to see NBA players gather again in the same building — but not like this.
The scene at Minneapolis City Hall was grim and somber, as Stephen Jackson — flanked by Karl-Anthony Towns, Gary Trent Jr. and Josh Okogie, among others — spoke passionately and painfully about George Floyd, the man he called “my twin” for their close physical resemblance.
Floyd’s death is now famous nationwide after a video was released showing his arrest. While Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinned him to the ground with his knee across Floyd’s neck, Floyd complained that he couldn’t breathe before eventually appearing to pass out. Bystanders asking Chauvin to stop the chokehold were largely ignored. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
“A lot of times, when police do things they know that’s wrong, the first thing they try to do is cover it up, and bring up their background to make it seem like the (expletive) that they did was worthy,” said Jackson, a 14-year NBA vet who once played for the Warriors. “When was murder ever worthy? But if it’s a black man, it’s approved.”
The momentum of outrage of Floyd’s death, however, has spurred consequences. Four officers involved in the arrest were fired; as of Friday, Chauvin had been arrested and charged with third-degree murder. Protests sparked throughout the country, with at least seven people
shot in Louisville and the destruction of a police precinct in Minneapolis. Public officials have been caught between attempting to empathize with the frustration of citizens tired of the deaths of black people at the hands of police, while also hoping to maintain a sense of order as riots have escalated.
While NBA stars have long been vocal about this particular issue, perhaps most memorably dating back to the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, the NBA is particularly close to this case. In addition to being Jackson’s friend, Floyd died in Minneapolis, an NBA market. While in another year, the NBA playoffs might keep some occupied from speaking out on social issues, with the league on hiatus, off-court interests are especially piqued, and frustration is being expressed throughout the NBA about Floyd’s death and other similar cases in the last few months.
The scale of these responses has spread throughout whole organizations. In an internal memo reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Atlanta Hawks announced they would bring in a diversity expert to conduct a workshop for company employees, and invited anyone disturbed by the high-profile deaths to speak out. But many are reacting as individuals, as concerned citizens dismayed by what they see as a chronic injustice.
“It’s a sad thing to see young minorities being murdered on camera by people supposed to protect us,” Lakers guard Quinn Cook told the Southern California News Group. “You don’t know what can happen. We need to pray for our country, pray for George Floyd and his family, and we have to keep being a voice for reason.”
There’s a tension for black athletes between the game and league.