NBA players finally arrived en masse to the league’s theme park campus over the last week, and quickly the content machine started kicking into overdrive. So far we’ve already experienced jokes about who is using the “snitch” hotline, players accidentally breaking their quarantine, reporters sharing their hotel room exercise routines, exhaustively detailed accounts about room service, who has gained and who has lost weight, and the “mysterious” absences of certain players who are being kept away from the rest of their teammates for “undisclosed” reasons. And then we have Nuggets forward Jerami Grant.
Speaking with the media on Wednesday, Grant answered nearly every single one of his questions with a reference to the killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT who was fatally shot by police officers who entered her home without knocking on March 13. The cops involved in the shooting have not been charged with any crimes. On Tuesday, 87 people (including NFLer Kenny Stills) were arrested in Kentucky for protesting the shooting at the home of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
When initially asked about how he and his teammates were spending time in Orlando, Grant instantly turned his attention to Taylor.
“I think it’s great to be here with my teammates,” Grant said. “It’s great to be back playing basketball. For me personally, and I think a lot of the players, I think it’s imperative that we focus on what’s really important in the world. One thing, for me, is Breonna Taylor’s killers still are roaming around free. I think I just want to focus on that with these interviews.”
Grant answered every subsequent question during his availability with a reference to Taylor and civil unrest, and when the Nuggets posted the video of his answers, they did so with the caption “Arrest the cops who killed Breanna Taylor.”
Despite the flood of ancillary stories coming with the NBA’s return, the league’s Florida campus plan remains a precarious enterprise. Florida is still very much a coronavirus hotbed, with the numbers of both new cases and deaths having blown past alarming. NBA players, coaches, and media are subject to fast, daily testing while many residents of the state—such as the theme park workers cleaning rooms or serving food—wait much longer to get results about a potentially fatal virus, if they get tested at all. And then there’s the social justice matter of it all.
The movement against systemic racism and police brutality has not stopped. And the need for action within institutions has not dissipated. The NBA is trying to give players a platform to bring awareness to these issues, but its first initiative—allowing league-approved slogans on the back of uniforms—has been met with a collective “meh.” (A corporate-controlled “protest” is how you end up with a completely boilerplate and functionally meaningless statement like “Equality” as one of the options to put on a jersey. Andre Iguodala probably summed up how many players feel by choosing to put “Group Economics” on the back of his uniform.)
For those fearing how the league’s return could take away from the spotlight against systemic racism, we’re seeing that play out a little bit by the amount of space taken up by all the goofy antics going on within the borders of the campus. That’s not to say people can’t have their attention on separate things, that everyone inside needs to be 100% focused on everything wrong with the world during every waking moment, or that there is no benefit to the escapism the league is providing by coming back. But one of the selling points of the NBA’s largely financially motivated return was that it would find a way to help those who are fighting for their civil rights, and that’s one of the most important metrics this entire operation should be judged on.
Grant deserves to be commended for keeping his focus on Taylor. As the NBA’s experiment continues, particularly once the scrimmages and games actually start, more and more attention from those closest to the courts will be drawn away from this country’s most pressing matters. Grant is making sure his focus—and ours—remains locked on what deserves to be in the foreground.