Carter-Williams: "We Have To Do Our Part"

Dan Savage
Director of Digital News

ORLANDO -- Some things are bigger than basketball.

Heading into the NBA campus, the Orlando Magic hoped to leverage their participation in the league’s restart to amplify their efforts to combat racism and bring about social change. From the moment they arrived at Walt Disney World wearing t-shirts that read, “GET OFF THE BENCH, GET INTO THE GAME, VOTE,” their mission statement was delivered loud and clear.

On Wednesday, the Magic took another step in bringing about awareness to such an important cause when they supported the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to not take the floor and participate in their scheduled Game 5 matchup and agreed to postpone their best-of-seven first-round NBA playoff series.

“Today we stand united with the NBA Office, the National Basketball Players Association, the Milwaukee Bucks and the rest of the league condemning bigotry, racial injustice and the unwarranted use of violence by police against people of color,” the Magic and DeVos family said in a released statement.

The decision was, at least in part, a reaction to the police shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake. Milwaukee is just about 40 miles north of Kenosha, Wisconsin, the city where the young Black man was shot in the back seven times by police on Sunday. The shooting of Blake, who remains paralyzed from the incident, conjured up images and emotions of the many people killed at the hands of police or civilian vigilantes such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.

“I think when you see something like that, the first thing that hit me, again, are we comfortable living in a country where this happens over and over and we don’t do anything about it,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford said in his pregame press conference. “What we’ve been talking about as a group for a long time now, well before we came into the bubble, is being involved and impactful in making positive and sustainable change.”

The NBA subsequently postponed the remainder of the league’s schedule for the day.

“The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association today announced that in light of the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to not take the floor today for Game 5 against the Orlando Magic, today’s three games – Bucks vs. Magic, Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers - have been postponed. Game 5 of each series will be rescheduled,” the league said in a released statement.

Players met on Wednesday night and again on Thursday morning to discuss next steps. Ultimately, the group decided to continue the season and leverage their platform to bring about social change.

“We still have to do our best to make change,” Michael Carter-Williams explained. “We still have to do our part in the community. I think that’s the biggest thing. It’s obviously not easy given everything that’s going on, but I think that if we can go out there and do our best and also have a list of things we want to accomplish, everything gets complete.”

The impact of the postponement was not limited to the NBA. Shortly after their announcement, the WNBA postponed their three-game slate. Subsequently, Major League Baseball games between the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, and Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres and were called off. On Thursday, a number of NFL teams cancelled practice and the Hockey Diversity Alliance requested for the NHL to suspend all playoff games for the day.

“It’s been pretty emotional the last twenty-four hours,” Carter-Williams said. “Obviously, there’s a lot going on. We feel for Jacob and his family, obviously. We wish them the best. (Send them our) prayers and (hope) everything is going to turn out OK. We want justice for him.”

For the Magic, their goal remains to combat racial injustice and continue to bring the conversation of social change to the forefront.

“In order to make real change, we have to change laws, we have to change local policies, we have to change the way that we live,” Clifford said. “For all of us, the way that we can do that is to vote. Get rid of the people that won’t make change and vote people in that will make change.”

It’s more than just words for the Magic. The team recently partnered with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which is recognized for its work on voting and criminal justice reform issues. It’s charged by President and Executive Director Desmond Meade, who led the FRRC to a historic victory in 2018 with the successful passage of Amendment 4, a grassroots citizen’s initiative which restored voting rights to over 1.4 million Floridians with past felony convictions. Amendment 4 represented the single largest expansion of voting rights in the United States in half a century and brought an end to 150 years of a Jim Crow-era law in Florida.

Prior to entering the NBA campus, Magic players, coaches and Basketball Operations staff also took part in an interactive Zoom call with Meade to discuss how they could enact social change and get others to vote in the coming months.

“I had some communication with Desmond (on Wednesday morning) and it’s going to be something we’ll continue to do,” Clifford said. “This is something that’s going to take time and we have to stay at it and we have to be diligent and forceful. We have to continue to do it, so we do make the right change and we vote people in that are thinking along those same lines.”

The Magic have also worked closely with Let Your Voice Be Heard, Inc, which is composed of community advocates and residents who have chosen to aid the fight for change and reform in impoverished neighborhoods by providing tools and resources that are so desperately needed in under-served and under-represented neighborhoods.

“Again, this whole thing is about trying to get people to understand that racism is a problem, bigotry is a problem, police accountability is a problem, and we’ve got to make changes,” Clifford said.

The organization is also developing a Social Justice Internal Task Force, which will address everything from recruiting and hiring practices to staff education to governmental, business and law enforcement relation initiatives.

In recent months, players and staff have also taken part in peaceful protests. Carter-Williams, among the players who’ve protested, took part in Orange County Mayor Demings‘ MLK Virtual Town Hall Meeting on July 15 along with Orlando County Sheriff John Mina and Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon.

“We have a big platform that we can use to really make change in this country,” MCW said. “It starts with going home to our own cities and making change there. It starts with encouraging people to vote. It starts with using our platform to talk to people with power in this country and creating change.”

By the Magic, the Bucks and the league postponing action, it’s clear that they’re adamant about change and standing behind their words.