LeBron James sent the word to the Los Angeles Lakers in a group text on Wednesday afternoon in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and basketball suddenly seemed irrelevant.
A grand jury in Kentucky had finally spoken. And James was letting his team know that NBA players, who have spent months seeking justice for Breonna Taylor, did not get what they wanted.
“Something was done,” Lakers guard Danny Green said, “but it wasn’t enough.”
Wednesday’s decision by the grand jury, which brought no charges against Louisville police for Taylor’s killing and only three counts of wanton endangerment against fired Officer Brett Hankison for shooting into Taylor’s neighbors' homes, was not unexpected by many NBA players and coaches. They had a sense it wasn’t going to go how they hoped.
“I know we’ve been using our platform down here to try to bring about education and a voice in a lot of players on our team, especially also spoken out on justice for Breonna Taylor,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We have not gotten that justice.”
Teams came to Walt Disney World to finish the season and crown a champion, and hoping that the platform of the NBA’s restart bubble could help amplify calls for change. Players and coaches have used the NBA spotlight to make statements at a time when the demand for racial equality and an end to police brutality is resonating as loudly as it has in generations.
And Taylor’s story — the tale of a 26-year-old Black woman who was killed March 13 by police in Louisville when they burst into her apartment on a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation centered around a suspect who did not live there — has captivated NBA players. Many have met, virtually, with members of her family to offer support. They say her name in news conferences, wear it on shirts, scrawl it onto their sneakers.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked about the news and he called it “demoralizing.”
“I think that the idea of just going into that apartment doesn’t make any sense,” Stevens told reporters prior to Wednesday’s Game 4 against Miami. “And to have 15 rounds of gun fire fired, five of which hit her, and there to be wanton endangerment – which I didn’t know existed before today – as the charge. Yeah, I mean, it’s tough.”
“We have moms. We have sisters, nieces, aunties. And just like men of color have experienced traumatic instances, so have women,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said. “That is an example of some things that happen to women in our country. So, we wanted to stand alongside them, but also make it that it’s not just us. I think the future is female, so it’s important to show our sisters that we care. That’s why it’s been important.”
Even for teams not in the bubble, it mattered. Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce leads a committee of NBA coaches tasked with finding new ways to use their own platform to create change, and he’s encouraged his own players — Black and white alike — to speak out and take action, whether in Atlanta or their own community.
Pierce took the Taylor news hard.
“Yeah, there was a grand jury and yeah, they went through the information and yeah, they have facts to support whatever the claims may be,” Pierce said. “But that doesn’t provide any justice for those that are on the outside, those that feel like the police and law enforcement are there to protect them … What currently is happening isn’t good enough.”
National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts went a step further. "Sadly, there was no justice today for Breonna Taylor,'' Roberts said. "Her killing was the result of a string of callous and careless decisions made with a lack of regard for humanity, ultimately resulting in the death of an innocent and beautiful woman with her entire life ahead of her.''
The league shut down for three days last month when a boycott that was started by the Milwaukee Bucks — in response to the shooting by police of a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wis. — nearly caused players to end the season because they felt their pleas for change were not being taken seriously enough.
Wednesday’s news was another disappointment for them.
“We feel like we’ve taken a step back, that we haven’t made the progress we were seeking,” Green said. “Our voices aren’t being heard loud enough. But we’re not going to stop. We’re going to continue. We’re going to continue fighting, we’re going to continue to push, we’re going to continue to use our voices.”
Walton gets show of support
New Sacramento Kings general manager Monte McNair said he is looking forward to working with coach Luke Walton to revive a franchise that has the longest current playoff drought in the NBA.
McNair was hired last week after a long tenure as an executive in Houston to replace Vlade Divac. He backed Walton publicly during his introductory news conference.
“I’ve got to know him the last few days, we’ve had some good conversations,” McNair said. “I’ve heard great things. So far I think we’ve had a great rapport. Luke’s going to be our coach next year. I’m really excited to work with him. I think we’re aligned with our vision and we’re gonna start implementing it.”
Walton is the team’s 10th coach since the Kings last made the playoffs in Rick Adelman’s final season in 2005-06. Sacramento went 31-41 in Walton’s first season at the helm.
Non-playoff teams can start workouts
The teams that didn’t qualify for the restart of the NBA season at Walt Disney World could begin voluntary workouts to start preparing for their next game — whenever that is.
“As of right now, we don’t know when next season will begin, but there’s obviously a lot of work to be done between now and then,” Tom Thibodeau said after the Knicks practiced.
The league allowed those eight clubs (Atlanta, Golden State, New York, Minnesota, Charlotte, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit) to have voluntary team workouts by creating their own bubbles, where players and staff stay together and are tested daily for the coronavirus.