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If the world had heard their cries and pleas long before this, perhaps not even the coronavirus could have kept them from completing their professional passion in these playoffs. But once Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers’ voice cracked last night, emotionally stating the ugly truth that “we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back,” it was on.
Or rather, off.
The NBA’s players had tried every possible tactic, even coming up with relative milquetoast sayings on the back of jerseys and the mild act of kneeling during the national anthem. And still, they gave America what it wanted by providing entertainment for its fans during a pandemic, including a segment that doesn’t respect them once they get out of a uniform.
They left their families at home, followed restrictive rules, obeyed a heavy manual that stated the lines they must color within. For their own pockets, yes, but also the owners’, too, to essentially keep the league alive.
They watched Black Americans follow similar rules: “Yes, officer” and “I have a registered weapon in my console, officer” or “What did I do, officer?” only to see more death with no accountability.
They watched as America couldn’t stop living up to its history instead of its fantasy. Four years to the day of Colin Kaepernick’s initial peaceful protest, the fear finally reacted.
Those are the stories players chose to bring to light; there are countless others too painful to relive, explain or explore.
After the fear was displayed and ignored yet again, America is now being treated to a controlled rage from this generation. A rage that began with outrage, transitioned to negotiation and once America showed how little it cares about Black lives, the Black NBA players did what nobody believed they would: choose the brave act of sitting down to watch the world burn for a night.
Whether it’s social media or the world moving at a faster rate than ever before, this generation is more comfortable pressing limits and using its voices. And with the Voting Rights Act in 1965 being parents but not yet grandparents, the advancement of civil rights hasn’t moved at the speed relative to everything else.
Listening to generations past tell stories about how bad things were resonates differently to 20-somethings, as if to say, “We’ve only gotten this far?”
Being among the newly wealthy puts the players in a unique position. It gives them access to how money works, but not necessarily access to power. When you’re poor, power is an invisible construct, light years away and impossible to fully understand.
The players know what can get done when power aligns with power, and also how things can stall when power aligns with each other.
They see billion-dollar arenas built in areas that shouldn’t be valuable real estate because of subsidies and the like that happen behind closed doors.
They decided to stop negotiating with that power and to illustrate what power looked like, cashing in all their chips for this moment of controlled rage. The NBA wasn’t prepared, and the world had to see a reality show in real time, scrambling without an answer — a calculated act that showed America’s true colors in the interim.
The lip service America had been giving became exposed, because it wanted its entertainment it had gotten used to in this new temporary reality.
Who knows what was the final breaking point? It’s been on the cusp for weeks, months, years — which is the problem.
It could’ve been anything, with the shooting of Jacob Blake at the hands of Wisconsin police being the latest insult to Black people’s humanity, let alone psyche. Then they had to watch a 17-year-old stroll through a protest Tuesday night with an automatic weapon and allegedly take the lives of two protestors without physical repercussion, Kenosha appearing to drown in hypocrisy.
For some, Trayvon Martin looked too close like a son. For others, Elijah McClain’s words of being an introvert sounded like a younger brother. Or Breonna Taylor feeling like someone they went to high school with, a woman trying her best to make her mark in the world.
So, how many more, America?
Before their athletic life mattered to you, their Black life didn’t to most of you — a notion confirmed on video or at conventions or in coded tweets.
If Dr. Martin Luther King was to be believed when he stated “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” the players know America believes that, too, and keeps kicking the can down the road while spitting in Black people’s collective faces.
“People are tired, but they’re extra tired now,” a general manager not in the Orlando bubble told Yahoo Sports. “There will be a price to pay for the players on the back end of this.”
The players wouldn’t have taken this step if they weren’t prepared to face the onslaught that comes from the shut-up-and-dribble crowd.
While TV cameras waited on Milwaukee to emerge from its locker room, the Bucks were giving America a taste of its own medicine, little by little, because the wait has been far too long and far too condescending.
If the exorbitant salaries were thought to buy silence, it only created more steel in players’ backs, that they knew they were on the side of right and sooner rather than later, the evidence and common sense would bear that out.
“When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable,” said a prepared statement from Bucks players, calling for justice in the Blake incident. “We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement.”
Being Black is playing a triple-overtime game every day, knowing the only way victory is won is the ability to step on the floor the next day.
By staying in the locker room, they made sure it’s America’s turn to step on the floor for a more serious game, because the Bucks aren’t playing anymore.
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