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Emotional Week for Nurse and the Raptors

Raptors coach Nick Nurse recounts an emotional week as Toronto returns to practice ahead of Game 1 against the Celtics

Police brutality and racism don't discriminate based on fame or fortune. It doesn't matter what kind of person you are or what's in your heart, far too often it comes down to one thing: Skin colour.

It's the message of the stories Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse heard in the conversations he had with his players in the days since the NBA players decided to strike to protest social injustice and police brutality.

"I continue to get personal stories from our players about incidents they have been through themselves with law enforcement officers which are personal and disheartening and disappointing," Nurse said Saturday.

It's the lesson Raptors president Masai Ujiri shared after the video was released showing an Alameda County Deputy Sherif named Allan Strickland shoving him after Toronto clinched Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals. Not only did Strickland shove Ujiri, but he proceeded to accuse Ujiri of assault, despite video showing that it was Strickland who instigated the altercation.

"Unfortunately, I was reminded in that moment that despite all of my hard work and success, there are some people, including those who are supposed to protect us, who will always and only see me as something that is unworthy of respectful engagement," Ujiri wrote in a statement. "And, there’s only one indisputable reason why that is the case - because I am Black."

That is why the Milwaukee Bucks didn't come out of their locker room before Game 5 against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday afternoon. They wanted to protest police brutality and social injustice after police in Kenosha, Wis. shot a Black man named Jacob Blake in the back on August 23.

In the days since the strike, Nurse said he had several conversations with his players about how best to move forward. To him, the best way to proceed was to play games in order to keep the megaphone the NBA provides its players, allowing them to keep the focus on social change.

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Eventually, that was the decision the players made, opting to return to work with a social justice mandate that includes opening voting centres in NBA arenas, creating advertising spots during games dedicating to promoting greater civic engagement, and establishing a social justice coalition to promote positive change.

For Nurse and Raptors players, that meant making phone calls to try to arrange for more arenas to open up and become voting centres. Nurse said he plans to make a call to the Iowa Wolves, the Minnesota Timberwolves' G-League affiliate where Nurse used to coach the former Iowa Energy to see if they'll turn their arena into a voting centre. 

Now, with social change still at the forefront of their minds, the Raptors are trying to get back into game shape as they prepare for Game 1 against the Boston Celtics on Sunday. After an emotional past few days, Nurse said the team's first practice looked a little out of sync.

"It felt like a, again, like another restart almost," Nurse said. "It’s like you haven’t played a game for a while and now you haven’t practiced for a while and you go back and you’re just working on passing and catching the ball and dribbling a little bit and just kind of getting the cobwebs out and I think it took a while."

He said Kyle Lowry — who is listed as questionable — practiced Saturday and looked "OK."

Tomorrow Raptors' basketball will return and even if it feels like a normal game, don't let the message be lost.

Black Lives Matter.