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Lakers’ LeBron James honors Breonna Taylor in NBA bubble game

LeBron James demanded justice for Breonna Taylor following his return from the NBA’s coronavirus stoppage on Thursday night, calling for the arrests of the three Louisville police officers who shot and killed the black 26-year-old emergency medical technician inside her apartment on March 13.

‘We want the cops arrested who committed that crime,’ James said, referring to officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove.

James also had ‘#Justice4BreonnaT’ written on his sneakers as his Los Angeles Lakers lost an exhibition to the Dallas Mavericks at the NBA’s bubble outside Orlando. The game was both teams’ first since mid-March, when the NBA season was suspended due to coronavirus.

Along with George Floyd, the African-American man who was killed in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, Taylor has become a symbol of racist police brutality after being fatally shot when police officers burst into her Louisville apartment using a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation.

The warrant to search her home was in connection with a suspect who did not live there and no drugs were found. 

Players from the top 22 NBA teams this season are currently quarantined at Disney World, where they are being monitored and tested frequently in hopes of restarting the pandemic-delayed 2019-20 season next week.

But aside from the historic circumstances surrounding the league restart, the NBA and its players are using their platform to promote Black Lives Matter and raise awareness about civil rights issues.

‘First of all, I want to continue to shed light on justice for Breonna Taylor and to her family and everything that’s going on with that situation,’ James told reporters.

‘As one of the leaders of this league, I want her family to know, and I want the state of Kentucky to know that we feel for her and we want justice. That’s what it’s all about. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong.’

James also addressed BLM, which has a visible presence inside the NBA bubble. Not only is ‘Black Lives Matter’ written on the hardwood at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex, but the group’s name also appears on the scoreboards surrounding the court as well.

As James explained, BLM is not intended to be a movement, which can be temporary.

‘When you’re Black, it’s not a movement,’ James said. ‘It’s a lifestyle. We sit here and say it’s a movement, and, okay … how long is this movement going to last?’

”Don’t stop the movement.’ … No, this is a walk of life. When you wake up and you’re black, that is what it is.’

‘It shouldn’t be a movement. It should be a lifestyle. This is who we are.’

While NBA players are using the season restart to demand change, coaches in the league are not making them walk down that path alone.

Coaches around the NBA — where most players are Black and most coaches are white — have been active participants in the demand societal change around the league.

‘I think it’s just understanding the moment and the movement that is taking place,’ Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce said. ‘That’s what all our coaches are doing, and as white coaches, they’re no fools. I think the beauty of our game is, we coach African American men, myself and the white coaches. We’re around it. We know our league is predominantly African American. So why not? If we’re going to ask for others to be empathetic, I think we all have to be empathetic.’

Pierce isn’t at the NBA restart at Walt Disney World — the Hawks aren’t among the 22 teams still playing this season — but he’s been active on regular leaguewide coaches Zoom calls and leads a committee of coaches tasked with how those in the NBA can best aid the societal-change movement.

He also helped get someone to coach the coaches.

Bryan Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an NBA community partner, and is someone who has spent 30 years pushing for social justice. He was scheduled to meet with the NBA’s coaches over a Zoom call for a half-hour a few weeks ago. The call went more than three times that long, and from there a running dialogue was born.

‘It was mesmerizing,’ Carlisle said of that initial call. ‘It was an education in itself.’

It’s the calendar created by Stevenson’s organization that Carlisle reads from each day. The impact by whatever Stevenson said to coaches that first night has continued resonating.

‘You have to believe things you haven’t seen,’ Stevenson said. ‘You have to have hope that we can turn this moment into something more than a moment. I mean, hopelessness is the enemy of justice and injustice prevails where hopelessness persists. And if NBA coaches believe that and if NBA players believe that, then fans can believe it too.’

He’s convinced the coaches believe.

Stevenson has been lauded publicly by virtually all the league’s coaches in recent weeks for helping educate them on things that they never knew. In a league where a handful of coaches — Golden State’s Steve Kerr and San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, most notably — are not shy about sharing political views publicly, this moment has driven other coaches to use their voices as well.

The NBA got permission to make the ‘John Lewis: Good Trouble’ documentary available to all head and assistant coaches this week and several teams — including the Magic, at Clifford’s request — screened the film. It was also available as a featured movie on the curated channel within the hotels.

‘I’m inspired by how this movement still has great stamina, and I think our ability to go there and still keep the conversation alive with our platforms is important,’ Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. ‘The next step that everybody wants to see is action and lasting, sustainable change in areas of systemic racism and social inequalities.’

Players are at Disney to compete for a championship, though the broader societal issues have not diminished since they arrived. Denver’s Jerami Grant took five questions in an interview last week and all his answers, no matter the topic, revolved around a demand for Taylor’s killers to be arrested.

Philadelphia’s Tobias Harris took a similar tactic a few days later, and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George did after his team’s scrimmage opener Wednesday. Houston’s Russell Westbrook has a clothing line that will display social-justice messaging and most players will wear jerseys with similar thoughts printed on the back as well.

If the players take an action on the court during games, such as kneeling, a person with knowledge of the situation said coaches have agreed to do the same. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because no plans have been announced.

‘It’s a seminal moment, in the sense that we have an opportunity to do something transformative if we have the courage,’ Popovich said. ‘And as with many things in today’s world, interest wanes pretty quickly no matter what the topic. … So, the league, the players, the coaches, staff, everybody is very committed to keeping it up-front in everybody’s consciousness, even though everybody’s excited to go 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 that same impact.

The way NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sees it, fans will take their cues from watching their various favorite teams — players and coaches alike. If the NBA is speaking change into existence and acting accordingly, he believes fans will apply that same passion to whatever role they can play into 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 unhealthy unsafe practices and policies,’ Stevenson said. ‘That’s a really powerful thing to imagine. And so, if we can achieve that, yes, I absolutely believe that can be a transformative moment.’

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