Brooklyn Nets' Garrett Temple Eyes a Social Justice Spotlight in Orlando

As the Brooklyn Nets head to Orlando to continue preparations for the NBA’s return to play at Walt Disney World, Garrett Temple does not want to miss the opportunity to put a focus on things bigger than basketball.

A convergence of circumstances has merged to create an unprecedented scenario this summer. The COVID-19 pandemic stopped the NBA season in its tracks, leaving the league to scramble for a workable plan to complete its season, leading to this single-campus solution with 22 teams all on site at Walt Disney World.

While the NBA was on hiatus — and much of the country on pause as well — a horrifying video emerged in late May of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling with his knee pinned on the neck of George Floyd for more than eight minutes. Chauvin and other officers are facing criminal charges in Floyd’s death, and the protests that began in Minneapolis that week in support of social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement are continuing through the country more than a month later.

“The way that we can utilize those two, three months in Orlando to continue to push the narrative, to continue to have it on people’s minds, fresh on people’s minds, is something we can do in terms of keeping it on people’s minds,” said Temple. “Then obviously we can utilize the push to get things done from a league basis that we may want to have done in terms of donations and putting funds into certain things. But I think just making sure the narrative continues to be pushed on a national level I think we can really utilize our bubble and ESPN and Turner to help us push that narrative.”

Throughout the past six weeks, NBA players have been active in protests and vocal about Floyd’s death and ongoing issues of police brutality. Caris LeVert said he participated in four or five marches. Jarrett Allen took part in a Juneteenth march in Brooklyn.

“We went across the Brooklyn Bridge,” said Allen. “It was an empowering march. It was great to see that not only was it African Americans and black people, but it was predominantly white. It was great to see that we had a lot of allies on our side.”

“I feel like the last four or five months, it’s been documented and people are kind of paying attention to it, but that’s kind of been going on since before I was born,” said LeVert. “I was kind of born into it. So, I don’t want to say it’s normal, but people like myself are kind of used to seeing crazy things like that happening. I mean, it’s good to see more awareness being brought to it, but at the same time, I feel like real change needs to come. I feel like more conversations are being had. That’s the first step, and I think for change to happen, it needs to just keep happening. More conversations, more action needs to be taken.”

As the league formalized its return to play plan in agreement with the players association, of which both Temple and teammate Kyrie Irving are vice presidents, there emerged some sentiment that the strongest statement players could make was not to play, that it would distract from a growing movement.

Temple was not surprised by those second thoughts, and it was a scenario he briefly weighed. It was a lesson from his father, he said, to always consider all the options and view different perspectives without moving too quickly. The conversations themselves, Temple felt, were the important part. He described today’s NBA players as more socially conscious than when he first came into the league a decade ago. Ultimately, he said, the players want the same things. The debate was about the best way to go about it.

The pandemic contributed to a focus on Floyd’s killing and the ensuing protests — “people have to watch,” said Temple — and the same dynamic will be in play when the NBA takes the court in Orlando, Temple believes. As media attention on the protests had started to die down, a new setting can bring the spotlight back.

And, significantly, Temple sees an audience ready to hear what he and his fellow NBA players have to say in a way that they were unwilling to before.

“I think this situation’s a little different — unfortunately, not in the fact that another black man has been killed subsequent to another black man in Atlanta and then a black woman — but the fact of how people have reacted to it, specifically how white America has reacted to it,” said Temple. “It feels a little different than the other times. I can remember when I heard about the George Zimmerman verdict I was in Los Angeles, California and I remember people, nobody seemed to care. And it was really my first time just hanging out in LA and it made me angry that it was so foreign to so many people, or people just didn’t even pay attention to it. Whereas fast forward I don’t know how many years, eight or nine years later, it seems like people are finally starting to care about unarmed black men being brutalized by the police and just black Americans in general being marginalized. So the biggest thing I see is the difference in how that has affected or everybody else is trying to help, and is realizing the devastation that’s going on.”

In June, Temple and teammate Joe Harris engaged in a conversation via the NBA’s Instagram Live channel.

“I think just being around somebody like Garrett where he’s just such a good communicator in general, but especially in regards to a lot of these social issues, he has a strong stance with how he feels, and he’s going to take the time to educate someone like myself that whatever obstacle we’ll be able to understand, but it’s wanting to educate and learn and trying to be better,” said Harris. “So definitely just the fact that we’ve had a lot of different discussions, you sort of put yourself in vulnerable uncomfortable positions where we’re having these sort of similar discussions that we have in the locker room on like an Instagram Live platform, just doing different things in that way where we hope that we can influence people and enact some sort of change and help create a level of education and understanding for different groups of people.”

Harris is looking forward to having NBA players together in one place in Orlando to continue to facilitate those conversations in person rather than via videoconferences. Within the Nets organization there have been a series of connections with outside speakers or between players, sometimes including head coach Jacque Vaughn and other coaches.

“I think this has been an amazing time for us as an organization and us as a group to grow stronger and closer together,” said general manager Sean Marks. “Some of the stories that I’ve been privy to and the conversations that we’ve had, not only in a 1-on-1 setting but in small breakout groups and also company-wide. We’ve been very fortunate to have some really nice fireside chats per se that have been led by our ownership group and we’ve had Van Jones on there to talk to the entire organization. He’s also spent some time with just the players and we’ve had a smaller group where it’s been Jacque and the coaches and myself with the players in smaller groups, and I know that the players have also had their own conversations. I’ve certainly enjoyed these conversations and I mean that in a sense that it’s been educational for me. It’s been educational for our whole group.

“To be quite frank it’s about time that society in general stands up and the Brooklyn Nets without a doubt will be supporting the Black Lives Matter movement not only now — it’s not a fleeting moment. This is something that’s here to stay and I look forward to seeing change.”