October 19, 2021


Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

How Clippers and other NBA teams reacted to events in Washington

As Congress prepared Wednesday to certify the electoral college vote count, confirming again the victory of President-elect Joe Biden, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr started his morning on the other side of the country with something else drawing his attention.

How his team would defend Lou Williams later that night without fouling the crafty Clippers guard?

“Suddenly, that didn’t seem quite as important when I turned the TV on as shoot-around was beginning,” Kerr said.

The images showed violent supporters of President Trump storming the U.S. Capitol, which forced lawmakers to flee to safety, left a woman dead following a shooting inside the building and spurred a day of demonstrations, but no postponements, across the NBA — a league where such displays have become commonplace, though never in response to events as extraordinary as the attempted disruption of a peaceful transfer of power.

“This is America’s Capitol,” said Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks, whose team played in Philadelphia. “You should not be able to do what I saw on video. It’s disgusting, it’s embarrassing and it should never happen.”

Phoenix and Toronto’s players encircled the Suns’ midcourt logo before tipoff, arms linked and heads bowed. New Orleans Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy, an outspoken critic of Trump on social media, called it “an embarrassing and shameful day in our country.”

The breach at the Capitol, which came hours after Trump told a rally that he would never concede defeat, followed runoff elections in Georgia on Tuesday that handed control of the Senate to Democrats. The NBA and WNBA played a role in the state’s general election in November by helping to convert the Hawks’ State Farm Arena into a polling place. In the Atlanta suburbs, Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap opened his gym into a polling place.

Most strikingly, players for the Atlanta Dream, the WNBA team co-owned by Republican incumbent, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, campaigned in recent months on behalf of Raphael Warnock after Loeffler criticized the Black Lives Matter movement.

“You see someone like Raphael Warnock become the first African American man from the state of Georgia, representing the state of Georgia going to the Senate. You see the following day that this is the reaction,” said Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce, who last summer helmed a committee of the league’s coaches that focused on issues such as racial inequality and social justice. ”This is the reality. There’s no coincidence that this is the reaction to all of the events that are going on with regards to what has happened on a very promising election yesterday.”

Unable to meet with players in a full group because of COVID-19 restrictions in San Francisco, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue called players ahead of a two-game series against Kerr’s Warriors. The teams later kneeled during the national anthem, with some players linking arms.

“The saddest thing for me today, just talking to our players individually, is that they’re not shocked,” Lue said. “And that’s messed up. For a situation like this to happen and them not being shocked about it, it’s pretty hurtful. I think we got to do a better job of raising awareness but not just talking about it, let’s actually take action. I am just tired of all the damn talking about it. Let’s make some movement and do something about it.”

Just as during late August, when the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play a first-round postseason game in protest after a White police officer in Kenosha, Wis., shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, in the back, the Bucks’ response Wednesday helped set the tone for the rest of the league.

One day after a Wisconsin district attorney declined to bring charges against the officer involved in Blake’s shooting, players from the Bucks and Detroit Pistons kneeled for 12 seconds after the opening tip. In Miami, Heat and Boston Celtics players met before tipoff to discuss options before releasing a joint statement and playing.

“2021 is a new year, but some things have not changed,” the teams’ statement read. “We play tonight’s game with a heavy heart after yesterday’s decision in Kenosha, and knowing that protesters in our nation’s capital are treated differently by political leaders depending on what side of certain issues they are on. The drastic difference between the way protesters this past spring and summer were treated and the encouragement given to today’s protestors who acted illegally just shows how much more work we have to do.”

Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers, one of the league’s most outspoken voices on social-justice issues and racial inequality during the NBA’s restart, said that “democracy will prevail, it always does.” But he drew a distinction in the images he saw from the Capitol.

“When you saw the protests in summer, you saw … the police and the National Guard and the Army,” Rivers said. “And then you see this and you saw nothing. It basically proves the point about a privileged life in a lot of ways.

“I’ll say it because I don’t think a lot of people want to, could you imagine today if those were all Black people storming the Capitol and what would’ve happened? So that to me is a picture that’s worth 1,000 words for all of us to see and probably something for us to reckon with again. No police dogs turned on people, no billy clubs hitting people, people peacefully being escorted out of the Capitol.”

In a moment of levity before tipoff in San Francisco, Kerr joked that he still had not come up with a plan to defend the Clippers’ Williams.

He was more certain about what he felt was underscored by watching the pro-Trump mob storm the chambers and offices of Congress.

“We’ve been talking about this for years, but the truth matters in our country and anywhere, in any circumstance, because of the repercussions if we allow lies to spread,” Kerr said. “… A legitimate election is suddenly questioned by millions of people, including many of the people who are leading our country in government, because we’ve decided to, over the last few years, allow lies to be told. So, this is who we are. You reap what you sow.”