LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – On the day nobody was arrested for killing Breonna Taylor, the man who recently wore a hat that read “Arrest the Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor” texted his teammates. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers were getting ready for a team meeting. Some players were getting treatment from trainers. Some were near a TV. They are up 2-1 in the Western Conference Finals and down on America’s justice system. Their thoughts bounce from one to the other, from basketball to the world outside it, from hope to fear.
Two hours after the news broke, James watched his Lakers teammates prepare for the Nuggets on two courts, one with a Miami Heat logo on it and the other with an Indiana Pacers logo, which was fitting for this disorienting year. James ate from a to-go box. He checked his phone. He did not know Breonna Taylor. He did not speak about her Wednesday, aside from a two-part Twitter thread lamenting the grand jury decision. Yet when people tell her story, he might be part of it, and when they tell his story, she might be part of it, too.
There was not much talk of stopping the NBA playoffs Wednesday. There are only four teams left. They are close enough to the end to want to finish. Players already walked out once, after Jacob Blake was shot in Kenosha, Wis. last month. It’s not clear what another walkout would accomplish, anyway.
The NBA bubble is a strange place. It is pleasant but repetitive. No player really wants to be here, but they don’t want to leave, either. Everybody here seems to agree: The NBA is telling two stories simultaneously. One is the chase for a championship in an unprecedented environment. That will end next month. The other is the pursuit of social justice. That one will go on.
NBA players have shown incredible passion for social justice this year. The question is what they can accomplish outside their bubbles – not just the bubble at Disney, but the bubble most of us live in, surrounded by like-minded people. The potential is enormous, and the league is already making progress; with James leading the way, the NBA is working hard to get more people to register and vote. When they leave here, the players face the difficult challenge to converting their justified anger and frustration into meaningful change.
Arresting the cops who killed Breonna Taylor was always unlikely. The no-knock warrant and qualified immunity were obstacles that weren’t going away. But wanting to arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor is completely understandable. The desire rests on a simple and fundamental belief: An innocent woman sleeping in her apartment should not be killed.
Wednesday’s announcement was disheartening – most deeply for those who knew and loved Taylor, of course, but also for anybody who believes in a fair and decent society. And it really does come down to that: An innocent woman sleeping in her apartment should not be killed. Whatever your political affiliation, your religion, or your race, how can you argue with that?
“We’re not going to stop,” Lakers forward Danny Green said. “We’re going to continue to play, continue to push. It seems like every time you turn around and look at the news, there is always something disheartening, disappointing.”
Green usually begins his media sessions by reciting the names of victims of police brutality. He did not do it Wednesday because he knew the conversation would move there organically. He said of the announcement in Louisville: “Nobody was really happy about it. It was disappointing. Something was done. But it was not enough. Most guys felt it was definitely not enough.”
Truthfully, even indicting and then convicting the officers for murder would not be enough; that would not bring Breonna Taylor back. But it’s important to keep our eyes on what the players are seeking: a more peaceful, fairer country. The message gets twisted and then used against them, but that is still the message.
Breonna Taylor should not have been killed. The cops who were shot in Compton, Calif. this month should never have been shot. These should not be controversial statements. Anybody with a heart should agree with them. Listen to James, who was asked Tuesday night about those officers in Compton:
“I've never in my 35 years ever condoned violence. Never have … I'm not saying that all cops are bad, because I actually, you know, throughout high school and things of that nature, I’m around them all the time and they are not all bad. But when you see the videos that's going on, and you can see not only my hometown but all over America, you continue to see the acts of violence towards my kind, I can’t do nothing but to speak about it …
“Not one time have I ever said, you know, ‘Let's act violent towards cops.’ … I do not condone violence towards anyone — police, Black people, white people, anyone of color, anyone not of color, because that's not going to ever make this world or America what we want it to be.”
Any honest assessment of LeBron James’s actions should acknowledge those words. James did not speak to the media after the Taylor news came out. He does not have to speak every time news breaks. But he is right, he knows he is right, and when he leaves here, he has to do what he can to show people just how right he is.