Months before the Toronto Raptors arrived in Tampa, they were one of the NBA’s most vocal teams in campaigning for social change.
When the death of George Floyd brought racial injustice and police brutality to the front of the national conversation this past summer, Raptors players jumped to utilize their platforms to push for social justice matters like education reform, equality and justice for Breonna Taylor.
They arrived in the Orlando bubble on a bus that had Black Lives Matter displayed across the side. To this day, the backdrop they sit in front of to do every postgame interview bears the same slogan.
Throughout that push, veteran guard Kyle Lowry, the team’s vocal and emotional leader, was front and center. And given the events of Wednesday, when pro-Trump demonstrators stormed the U.S. Capitol, he arrived at his postgame news conference following the Raptors’ 123-115 loss in Phoenix focused on making a point.
“Honestly, the basketball doesn’t matter,” Lowry said. “(Wednesday), what happened on Capitol Hill was disturbing, and the fact that people were allowed to basically rush and take over a federal building without any enforcement, to not do that and just do whatever they want, if they were people of color, I think it would have ended in a whole different situation.
“Honestly, we say 2021 is a new year, but the same situations are still being lived in in our face.”
Lowry called the announcement Tuesday that the officer who shot Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., wouldn’t be charged “a slap in the face to Black people.”
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said watching protestors storm the Capitol wasn’t surprising.
“I think if you’ve been paying attention the last few years, even longer than that, I think we can see what’s going on,” VanVleet said. “I grew up in this country, so I’m used to it. It’s not a good thing. It’s the way things are. I’m not surprised any more by anything. We’ve just got to keep doing our part individually and collectively.
“It’s a flawed system, and if you don’t know what it is by now, you probably don’t want to know what it is or you’re just not paying attention,” VanVleet said. “America’s been racist, it’s probably going to continue to be racist, and we’ve got to continue to do our part inside that system.”
Before Wednesday’s game, Raptors coach Nick Nurse was asked to sum up his feelings on the past two days.
“Really disturbing, I think on both fronts, disturbing, disgusting, incredulous, sad,” he said. “I think it’s sad. I think this seems to not stop and not improve.”
Lowry met with Suns guard Chris Paul before Wednesday’s game, and the two decided that players would lock arms in a circle around midcourt during the national anthems as a show of solidarity.
“We watched this thing unfold (Wednesday), and I think we spoke about just wanting to come together as two franchises,” Lowry said. “As players, we just wanted to show our unity together, because at the end of the day, we all stand together.”
Lowry pointed out there were ways that athletes have made an impact, like when WNBA players campaigned for Raphael Warnock to win the Georgia U.S. Senate runoff election after his opponent Kelly Loeffler, a part-owner of the Atlanta Dream WNBA team, criticized the league backing the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It shows the power of us as athletes,” Lowry said.
Moments later, Lowry’s eyes squinted as he focused on a television and read the headline out loud: “Four dead after rioters stormed Congress to block Biden’s win.”
“It’s like, what the (expletive),” he said. “And the man who is the president incited it. He told them to do it. That man is a criminal. He should be charged. That (stuff) is crazy. It’s crazy. You basically told them to go do this, and people died. How is that even cool? It’s tough.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.