Raptors' diversity helping racial conversations for Gasol and Siakam

Aaron Rose

The Toronto Raptors have not shied away from talking about racism on an international level. They've repeatedly stressed the importance of making social change not just in the United States and Canada, but around the world where injustice remains a major issue.

"It’s a global issue because there’s problems everywhere in the world," said Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, a native of Cameroon. "Obviously it’s focused more on North America right now but social injustice happens everywhere."

The Raptors have six players born outside the U.S. and three others who have lived overseas during their professional basketball careers. It's created the kind of diversity few other NBA teams have and has lead to productive conversations about what racism looks like around the world. Raptors coach Nick Nurse said multiple players and coaches have shared stories about the injustice they've seen across the globe. 

For the Raptors' international players, learning the history of anti-Black racism in North America took some time. It meant having conversations about the history of Jim Crow, according to Siakam, and trying to grapple with forms of discrimination that are different from the kinds he was used to growing up in Cameroon.

Raptors center Marc Gasol recounted his first time really educating himself on American racism back in 2008 when he first joined the Memphis Grizzlies. He said one of the first activities the team did that season was visit the Lorraine Motel, the site of the National Civil Rights Museum, and the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

"If you have a chance I would advise you to go," Gasol said of the museum. "It has grown and improved over the years but the history is still there, the education is still there to be taught and you have a lot of leaders in the Memphis community area that can really help you. And yes, you have to learn a lot and see how much of a struggle African-American people [faced] and the lack of opportunity and about the history and how hard they had to work to get that opportunity and be where they’re at now, and they’re still not where they’re supposed to be."

The Raptors are planning to have a social justice statement prepared for Saturday's seeding game opener against the Los Angeles Lakers ready, but Nurse said he didn't want to reveal what exactly the players are planning to do.

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