Once again the NBA moved into the forefront in speaking out on social issues following an incident in Sacramento on Thursday.
Last Sunday night, Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old African-American, was shot 20 times and killed by Sacramento police while in the backyard of his grandmother’s house. Police, who were seeking a suspect who was breaking car windows in the neighborhood, approached Clark believing he was carrying a gun. Clark was unarmed, carrying a cellphone.
Protestors took to the streets of Sacramento Thursday night, blocking the entrance to the I-5 freeway and the entrance to the Golden 1 Center prior to the Hawks-Kings game. Fearing conflicts between the fans and protestors, the Kings elected to close the arena’s entrances and not allow fans in.
The game was played in front of a scant crowd. Afterward, Kings owner Vivek Ranadive addressed the crowd in a heartfelt speech, saying that the Kings would try to help the community heal after another police shooting of an unarmed person of color.
The team has offered a full refund to fans with tickets who weren’t allowed to attend the game.
Owners of professional sports teams have become more involved in social issues. Many owners in the NFL objected to players kneeling for the national anthem in protest of social injustices, while others, such as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, showed solidarity with their players. The message became clouded.
Commissioner Adam Silver and NBA team owners know their players are mostly men of color and that they can relate to the issues between people of color and the police.
Players such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant have expressed their discontent with certain social issues and the state of America. Silver has supported the players in speaking out and the NBA has made it clear it plans to work with communities on these issues, not make threats or blackball athletes for their beliefs.
“To me, as commissioner of the NBA, this is a legacy of important work that I’ve inherited, that I continue to encourage, and it doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with everything that’s said at any given moment,” Silver said last month. “But the fact that these players are not just basketball players, they’re multidimensional, they care about their communities, and they care about what’s happening in their country. They then care enough to speak out, and sometimes at great risk to themselves because it’s not lost on them that there are some people who will disagree with them. Social media is full of hate as well.”
Ranadive’s speech had nothing to do with signing free agents or building a new arena. He is making an effort to build a bridge between the community and his team.
The NBA should continue its progressive stance on social issues. Its membership is affected by situations such as the death of Clark. And their feelings should not be ignored because they are affluent or because they play a game. They are still thinkers.
“There was a time where athletes either felt they shouldn’t speak up upon things or they didn’t feel the courage to speak about things that were going on,” James said last month. “I’ve always said, at the end of the day I do it because I’m passionate about it. I do it because I know that this is bigger than just me personally. The hardest thing in the world for me personally is raising two African-American boys and an African-American daughter in today’s society. It’s hard.
“For me to sit up here as an athlete — that’s why I started a company. I started Uninterrupted because I wanted athletes to feel like they had the power. They had the platform to speak about whatever they wanted to speak about and not have it cut and diced and split into a sound bite and people use it how they want to use it. That’s exactly why I started it.
“It can be as powerful as speaking about Trayvon Martin, or it could be as simple as saying what type of socks are you wearing this morning. That’s why I started the platform that I started, to have athletes feel empowered to speak about whatever they feel like they want to speak about. Because we have so many kids and so many people look up to us, to have that platform means everything to me.”
ALWAYS ON WATCH
Ainge has passion for scouting
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has been scouting college players for the past few weeks.
Ainge gave up the Nets’ first-round pick in the Kyrie Irving trade with Cleveland, but the Celtics still own their first-round pick and could potentially trade up if Ainge has a player in mind.
Scouting is one of Ainge’s favorite aspects to his job. He said he enjoys watching the best college talent and envisioning how they would look in Celtics green.
“It’s an important part but a small part of what I do, but I do it all year,” he said. “I’m constantly watching players, whether it is at my home or on my computer or watching games live on TV in my office or going out from city to city and scouting. It’s something I do all throughout the year, including summer.”
The NCAA has been under major scrutiny in the past few weeks because of an FBI investigation that has implicated several coaches for offering payments to recruits or taking money from agents to steer exiting players toward their agencies.
As exciting as the NCAA Tournament has been, it has been played under a cloud of controversy because of the potential charges against coaches and potential probation for schools.
“I have a lot of thoughts on it and I think the first thought is we should all wait and see what we really know for sure as opposed to reporting on the reporting,” Ainge said. “I try to avoid the conversations that go around a report. I’d like to know facts and have somebody convicted of crimes before I say anything. I’ll give these people the benefit on the doubt.”
It’s been theorized that the NBA could use the G-League as a minor league system for prospects who do not want to attend college. The G-League includes the Celtics’ affiliate in Maine.
“You would probably have to have more rounds of the draft,” Ainge said. “I’m not sure of that.
“I happen to be a fan of NCAA basketball. I think it’s great. I played minor league baseball. I played major league baseball. I played in the NBA and I played college basketball. And college basketball is about as fun as it gets. I’d be sad if it’s just the G-League and the best players not playing in college because I think it’s a wonderful environment to develop lifelong friendships, get an education, learn to live away from home and have the college basketball experience. I think it’s one of the great ones in our society.
“I think the NCAA and NBA are trying. They are obvious different entities with different motives but I think they should come together to see what they can do to make it better.”
Chalmers worked hard to come back
It was two years ago that Mario Chalmers suddenly collapsed to the TD Garden floor, without any contact, while playing for the Grizzlies. Chalmers tore his right Achilles’ tendon and his career was in jeopardy.
Chalmers missed the 2016-17 season and then had to prove he was healthy and durable enough to return to the NBA.
He eventually re-signed with Memphis and has been the Grizzlies’ backup point guard this season.
Chalmers’s first trip back to TD Garden last month wasn’t lost on him. He knows how much he had to overcome just to return to the NBA.
“It’s almost been like two years since it happened but at the same time you always think about where it happened, where it took place,” he said. “It’s good to be back here and be back on the court. The injury happened but it shows that it didn’t shut me down.”
Chalmers, 31, was determined to reclaim a role in the NBA after the injury.
“It’s very tough, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever been through,” he said. “Just because you’ve got to learn everything, all your mechanics again, rebuild your foundation, and that’s never something easy when you have to rebuild. I’m just happy to be back playing and taking it day by day.”
A difficult obstacle after the rehab is convincing teams you are healthy. Did you lose a step? And if you did, are you still able to run a team? Can you compensate for your injury? Or will you be dusted by these millennial point guards and their premium athleticism?
“Teams just want to see you healthy and that was the main thing,” Chalmers said. “I’m out here proving I’m healthy and I can be healthy for a whole year. Just going into the summer and go from there [in free agency].”
The Grizzlies entered Friday tied for the league’s worst record. Chalmers was pressed into increased duties after cornerstone point guard Mike Conley suffered a season-ending injury in November.
The Grizzlies have been just trying to stay competitive with their young players.
“A lot of the young guys do look up to me, they do listen, and that’s the good thing about these young guys,” Chalmers said. “They want to get better, they want to learn. Whenever they do ask me for advice, I’m always ready to give it to them, just to teach them about my experience and just try to help them out.
“They just call me ‘Unc.’ I’m the old guy on the team, but it’s cool. These are my young guys. I’ll do anything for these guys. I’m just happy not to be a young guy anymore. You get treated like a vet, you do vet things. As long as you show leadership and be positive, you get to do what you want to do.”
The Grizzlies are taking a pounding on the court because of their youth and being in the competitive Western Conference. Chalmers, the starting point guard on two title teams with the Heat, has to help the younger core through these difficult times and not get accustomed to losing.
“That’s the tough thing. We’re playing for us right now. We’re trying to get better each and every day,” Chalmers said. “It’s been a tough year for everybody on this team, a lot of injuries, a lot of ups and downs. [Coach David Fizdale] being fired. There’s a lot going on on this team, but I think we stuck tough through it.”
And Chalmers has no intention of retiring or relenting.
“It just shows your competitive spirit. That’s one thing I’ll say about 95 percent of the NBA players is we’re all competitive, no matter what the circumstances are, no matter what the situation is,” he said. “When we’re out there between them lines, we’re going to compete. I feel good. As the season keeps going, the better I feel. Getting back to the NBA grind, getting back to what it takes to go far and do what I’ve got to do.”
The league’s worst record is likely going to come down to Phoenix and Memphis, both 19-53 entering Friday. Memphis won’t even be close to favored in any of its final nine games. What’s more, seven of its final nine games are against teams already in the playoffs or still in contention. An April 6 home game against Sacramento followed by a home game against Detroit two days later are the Grizzlies’ best chances to pull out a win. Phoenix, which entered Friday’s game at Cleveland having lost nine straight, has a brutal stretch starting Monday against the visiting Celtics. After that, the Suns play the Clippers, Rockets, Warriors, Kings, Pelicans, and then the Warriors again. The Suns end the season with Dallas, giving them two decent chances — against the Kings and Mavericks — to notch wins. The Suns have loaded their roster with young players over the past five years (to little success), so they are less desperate for a lottery pick than they are for veteran help and star power. It will be interesting to see how general manager Ryan McDonough, who also needs to hire a full-time coach, handles the draft. Dragan Bender, Josh Jackson, and Marquese Chriss have been slow to develop, so McDonough will have to make some roster decisions this summer if he plans to add another big man in what is a draft heavy on big men. The Suns could definitely use a franchise-caliber point guard, but if they do land the No. 1 pick they would almost have to take 7-footer Deandre Ayton . . . Rajon Rondo told the Globe last week he planned to pursue having his technical foul assessed on March 17 rescinded because he was trash-talking an opponent, not official David Guthrie. But Rondo’s technical was upheld. He has four for the season. Dwight Howard served his mandatory one-game suspension Thursday for receiving his 16th technical of the season last Wednesday against Brooklyn. Golden State’s Draymond Green has 15 techs on the season but has been on his best behavior the past month to not pick up another . . . Gordon Hayward is the Celtics’ candidate for the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, which goes to the player who best exemplifies the league’s dedication to the community.