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Social Justice

How NBA players are responding to Jacob Blake shooting

What will they do next to continue the fight?

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Milwaukee Bucks’ win on Monday moved them closer to advancing to the second round of the NBA playoffs. But Bucks guard George Hill was in no mood to celebrate after the game.

​“I’m tired of these crooked a– cops,” Hill said outside of the Bucks’ locker room.

​The cops Hill was referring to this time were from Kenosha, Wisconsin, where police fired seven shots at Jacob Blake, who is Black and had his back turned. Blake’s three sons – ages 8, 5 and 3 – watched from a car, according to attorney Ben Crump.

​It was the latest incident in police brutality against Black people. While Blake is expected to survive, he is currently paralyzed from the waist down, according to his father.

Hill first saw the online video of the shooting on Monday morning. Being the father of two young children made it even tougher to watch, he said.

“We shouldn’t have come to this damn place to be honest,” Hill said after the game. Asked later that day to elaborate, Hill told The Undefeated via text: “We shouldn’t be playing with all that’s going on. We’re down here for money purposes only. These games are only overshadowing what is really going on.”

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell shared a similar sentiment on social media on Monday: “F the games and playoffs!! This is sick and is a real problem we demand justice! Its crazy I don’t have any words but wtf man! This is why we dont feel safe!!!!”

The NBA temporarily suspended its season due to the pandemic on March 11. Two-and-a-half months later, the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked worldwide protests. At the time, the NBA was creating its “bubble” in Orlando, Florida, to restart the season, but some players questioned whether playing basketball would take the focus off the protests. Ultimately, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association decided to restart the season on July 30. In Orlando, players have continued to speak out against police brutality, racial injustice and systemic racism.

On Monday, players association executive director Michele Roberts said she believes it’s important for the players to keep using their platform for social justice. Being in the bubble affords players the ability to talk with the media at games, practices and in other settings, she said.

​“That George Hill would say that means people are listening,” Roberts told The Undefeated. “That Donovan Mitchell is saying what he said means people are listening. We want to talk about how great these games are. And they’ve been great games. These players have said, ‘No. No. We’re not concentrating on someone’s game. We’re concentrating on what is happening in the streets and this is outrageous.’ They got a platform where they can be heard. They’re using it and we will see what happens. I think right now everyone is just reacting to the tape and it’s just awful. …

​“As evidenced by their social media, they are wounded and horrified. The good news is they are more determined to use their platform as a way to bring attention to this. It bears a call for action and what more we can do to address this. But everyone is heartbroken. … And a lot of our players are fathers. The horror of watching this man being shot in front of his children is deeply affecting them.”

​Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon, whose team was eliminated from the playoffs on Monday, doesn’t regret coming to Orlando for the NBA restart.

​“There were a lot of guys that decided not to come due to what’s going on with the Black community, the oppression,” said Brogdon, who had joined Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown in May in a peaceful protest in Atlanta. “But for me, I thought I could make more of an impact making this money and then helping the Black community with it, and also continuing to shed light on those that don’t have a voice.”

​Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul played the biggest role in convincing the players to come to Orlando as the president of the players association. He also worked with the union to push the NBA to get social justice messages on game jerseys, and those jerseys are now being auctioned to help Black communities in need.

​Paul normally refrains from reading anything on social media while he’s in the NBA playoffs. But after his wife, Jada, told him it was important, the father of two watched the Blake video.

​“It gave me chills, man, knowing his kids were in the car,” Paul said. “This ain’t right. I don’t care about what you say. I don’t know enough about what was happening. But I don’t care what was happening. There is no way that should happen to a man …​ I’m tired of seeing videos. David West, who is a brother to me, said he doesn’t watch them. I’m almost at that point. I’m tired of seeing it.”

​So, where do NBA players go from here? ​Roberts said she expects the players will communicate with each other on what they should do next.

The Portland Trail Blazers ran a public service announcement during their loss to the Los Angeles Lakers Monday night with the message, “It could be me.” The Bucks also put out a statement in support of Blake, adding, “we will continue to support all Black lives.”

​Following the Lakers’ 135-115 Game 4 win over Portland, LeBron James offered his thoughts on Blake.

​“It’s what we’ve been talking about and what we’re going to continue to talk about,” James told Turner Sports after the win. “Having two boys of my own and me being an African American in America, and to continue to see the police brutality that happens with my kind, continue to see what continues to go along with the injustice, it’s very troubling.

“We play a beautiful game that brings so many families together. People are able to rejoice and enjoy it. But at the same time, never lose track of what is going on in our world, especially in America.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.