Every weekday, SI’s Chris Mannix will check-in with his Bubble Bits, a quick hit on something notable from inside the NBA’s campus
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla – The Raptors and Celtics discussed electing not to play Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in a players-only meeting between the two teams on Tuesday night.
“Boycotting the game has come up for them, as a way to try to demand a little more action,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “That’s really what they want. I think there is enough attention and not quite enough action. That’s what I can sense from the discussions, their disappointment.”
Added Jayson Tatum, “It’s an active discussion. People are upset, angry and we’re just trying to come together to figure out how we can do something.”
A work stoppage would be a response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year old Kenosha (Wisc.) man who was shot multiple times in an altercation with officers on Sunday. The shooting of Blake, which comes two months after the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died after a police officer kneeled on his kneck for nearly nine minutes.
“People are going to say sitting out, what is that going to do?” said Tatum. “Obviously if we sit out a game or the rest of the playoffs, we understand how big of an impact that would have. Everyone is going to have to talk about it … we don’t want to just keep playing and forget about what is happening on the outside world.”
The Blake shooting has rattled NBA players inside the bubble. Several have questioned the appropriateness of being there. Before teams reported to Florida in mid-July, there was a lengthy debate among players as to whether they should go. The argument for sitting out, one spearheaded by Nets star Kyrie Irving, was that a return to play would take away from the social justice movement.
In recent days, several players wondered if they had made the right decision.
“We came here for a reason, to use our platform and wanting to send a message and hopefully bring awareness and make a change,” said Pascal Siakam. “But if feels like we’re stuck. We’re not doing anything productive … these things hurt. I don’t care where you’re from.”
Players from the Raptors and Celtics declined to get into specifics of the meeting. Nurse said that several Toronto players had discussed leaving the bubble entirely. Players, with the league’s full support, have been visible and vocal supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. Before each game, teams, including coaches and support staff, kneel for the national anthem. They wear Black Lives Matter tee shirts during warmups. Players regularly speak on social justice issues during media availabilities
The Blake shooting, however, has made many wonder just how effective these actions are.
“There are a lot of things that we’ve done,” Siakam said. “It just feels like it’s not changing.”
For the Raptors, this month has been especially troubling. Last June, as Toronto celebrated its first NBA championship, team president Masai Ujiri was involved in an altercation with an Alameda County Sherrif’s deputy as he attempted to access the floor. Ujiri was accused on initiating the incident. The deputy, Alan Strickland, filed a lawsuit against him.
Bodycam footage released this month revealed that Strickland, not Ujiri was the aggressor. In the video, Strickland shoved Ujiri twice, the second time after Ujiri, credential in hand, identified himself as the team president.
Said Nurse, “There is some personalness to this with part of our group.”
The teams will continue discussions tonight, several players said. Celtics rookie Grant Williams said that kneeling, while impactful early, had stopped resonating as strongly and that the focus has been on “what can we do next.” Williams said there needs to be substance to whatever players decide to do. Tatum said whatever guys decided to do, there would be no judgement.
“How many points we score, how many games we win, that sh—doesn’t matter right now,” Tatum said. “Being a black man in America is more important than what I’m doing on a basketball court. Using my platform, my voice, to help create conversations and change is more important than anything I could do out there. You think about a man being shot in his back seven times, his kids in the car, that’s way more important than anything I could do out there.”