Tim Harris, the Lakers’ chief operations officer and president of business operation, recently reached out to the Sociology department at his alma mater UCLA with a question.
He wanted to know if anyone specialized in race or racism.
Amid nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer on May 25, Harris wanted to gain a better understanding of the moment and how the Lakers could make a positive impact.
Harris was put in touch with Dr. Karida Brown, an assistant professor at UCLA in African American Studies and Sociology.
"What started as one conversation with the staff to just offer some insight, some perspective on this present moment, turned into a set of conversations," Brown said in a conference call Friday. "That set of conversations led to my question: ‘Is the Lakers a non-racist organization or an anti-racist organization?’ And I was super happy when Tim responded, ‘You know what, we hadn’t necessarily thought about it in those terms. But I can say that we are aspirationally anti-racist.’"
Brown was excited by his response, pointing out that it expressed a willingness to partake in a growing and learning process. Brown agreed to guide the Lakers on that journey, accepting a new position with the team as Director Of Racial Equity And Action, which she began Thursday.
"My primary responsibility is to the staff," she said. "So, while I am a resource to everybody within the Lakers family – including players and the executive board – my primary goal, where I see that I can make the biggest difference, have the biggest impact, is making sure that I empower the staff, over 150 people, to have the education, the resources, the knowledge, the landscape of partnerships so that they can all be empowered to move on one accord to be those change makers in the world that they want to be."
Brown acknowledged that the 16-time NBA champion Lakers are in a unique position, considering they're a global brand and they have one of the most popular and influential athletes in the world on their team in LeBron James.
She said she wants to help the organization not only be leaders in the business of basketball, but also morality. She went on to explain the difference between being a non-racist versus an anti-racist.
"Non-racist is rooted in a colorblind mindset," she said. "Non-racist means that, ‘I don’t see race, I just see people.’ (Or), ‘I’m so sorry that happened, I’m offering you thoughts and prayers.’ It is situated in a disposition that perhaps has good intentions to do no harm to others, and to wish good to your fellow human being. However, it is not action oriented and it allows one to not see the racial inequities that are rooted in systems. So, anti-racist, on the other hand, insists upon seeing race. Anti-racist also takes an affirmative position that it is against that racism. It situates one to ask yourselves, ‘What is it within my power? What can I do to identify and name these places, these mechanisms of racial inequality?’ And then, ‘What is within my power to do something about that?’ That is an anti-racist stance."
Many of the Lakers players have used their platforms to denounce racism and police brutality in the wake of Floyd's murder.
James has written a constant stream of posts calling out racial injustices to his combined 112 million followers on Twitter and Instagram. He also founded a nonprofit group named More Than A Vote to fight black voter suppression and excite minority voters across the nation.
Kyle Kuzma wrote an essay for the Players' Tribune in which he discussed the racism he experienced as a biracial child in Flint, Michigan, and encouraged people to demand change.
Danny Green participated in multiple protests.
And Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley have questioned whether players should participate in the resumption of the season on July 30 in Orlando, expressing concern that it would distract from the movement for racial justice.
When asked for her opinion on whether the season would detract from The Black Lives Matter movement or be an opportunity for players to use their platforms to further disseminate their messages, Brown, who had been in her new role for one day, said it was too early for her to weigh in.
"I have to say that I’ve been teaching all year, I’m a professor," she said. "I’ve been writing a book. I started yesterday so I’m just getting into the range of conversations that are going on in that area. I don’t know enough yet to have a strong opinion either way. But, again, coming back to that point, I’m not surprised that there’s such a variety of responses, particularly from black players who are leaders in their communities and at the forefront of these issues as well."
Brown acknowledged that sports have a lot of power in influencing society. She said she hopes the Lakers will be leaders in inspiring other people and organizations to question whether they're non-racist or anti-racist.
Brown added that issues around race and racism are finally gaining widespread attention and support, and organizations can play an important role in helping create progress and change.
“The world completely changed in the COVID moment, where we all had to sit down and witness these heinous killings at the hands of the police with George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor and many others that aren’t circulated in the media as heavily," she said.
"I think this moment has pierced the moral conscientiousness of not only the United States, but the world, and we ushered into an area where this question of systemic racism, the question of anti-black racism, police violence, racial violence came at the forefront ushered in by these events. And unlike times of crisis in the past, where these issues might have confronted individuals or particular groups that lean in different ways, this time the world is looking at everybody, including organizations."