DA's Morning Tip

Sacramento Kings take active role in helping community after Stephon Clark's death

The young boy threw Garrett Temple for a loop.

Temple, Vince Carter and former Sacramento Kings star Doug Christie were at South Sacramento Christian Church late last month, at a forum quickly put together to try and give the community a chance to vent, to pray, to witness, and to reach out to the NBA players in attendance. The community needed to let the players know the pain that was roiling the city in the wake of the police shooting death of an unarmed 22-year-old man, Stephon Clark, in his grandmother’s back yard March 18.

“We did a few word association games,” Temple said Saturday night. “One of them was ‘safe places,’ and people started saying things to us: ‘mom’s house,’ ‘church.’ I yelled out ‘basketball gym.’ People were yelling out certain musicians, like you go somewhere to listen to certain musicians to feel better. One kid, he had to be 12, and he wrote a rap. He wrote it on the spot. He wrote ‘the safest place for a black boy is in the grave.’ And when he said that, me, Doug and Vince was like, man, that’s crazy. He just wrote this in the last 10 minutes. That was what was on his mind.”

That’s what much of Sacramento is going through after Clark’s death.

Police said Clark matched the description of a suspect who’d been breaking into cars in the neighborhood, and that he ran into his grandmother’s yard after being asked to stop while in another person’s yard nearby. They then claimed that Clark approached them with an object in his hand, and they fired to protect themselves. But the object in his hand was a cell phone, and no weapon was found on him or nearby.

An autopsy of Clark commissioned by his family, though, revealed he’d been shot eight times by police, mostly in his back indicating, at best, that there’s some serious question about the police’s initial version of what happened.

It’s odd that the community saved the Kings, and now it’s coming full circle for the Kings to try and help save the community.”

Former Kings star Doug Christie

The community’s anger at Clark’s death spilled into the streets, with a coalition of civic leaders and community organizers staging impromptu protests through the city — including, twice, just outside Golden 1 Center, where the Kings play. Against the Atlanta Hawks on March 22 and again against the Dallas Mavericks on March 27, protestors formed human chains around the entrances at the Golden 1 Center, keeping fans who hadn’t yet gotten into the building from being able to get their seats.

But the Kings, instead of hiding inside their new, beautiful building, have taken steps toward the community.

It started that first night, when owner Vivek Ranadive made impromptu postgame remarks that offered condolences to Clark’s family and pledged that the team would take an active role in trying to bring the city back together. The Kings formally pledged to work with two groups — the Build. Black. Coalition and the Sacramento chapter of Black Lives Matter — to find ways the team could invest in the African-American community.

Three days after the Hawks’ game, the Kings hosted the Boston Celtics. Both teams wore black shooting shirts that had been quickly processed, with “Accountability: We Are One” on the front and “#StephonClark” on the back. More impressively, the Kings and Celtics, with Boston taking the initiative, quickly came together in consultation with the NBA to script, shoot and edit a public service announcement the day before they played one another. The 30-second PSA aired in the Golden 1 Center the next day.

That’s part of what drove Temple, Carter and Christie — who played for the Kings during the Chris Webber-Vlade Divac era and who now does the team’s pre- and post-game shows — to the “Kings and Queens Rise” forum March 30, 12 days after the shooting. (Former Kings player Matt Barnes, who grew up in Sacramento, also organized a rally for Clark’s family and offered to pay Clark’s funeral expenses.)

Temple had already been engaged with kids in the city before the Clark killing; he’d adopted Sacramento Charter High School as a mentor to the black and Latino students there. Christie came aboard after Clark was killed.

I’m going to have some conversations when I get to my hometown in Baton Rouge. … This isn’t just a Sacramento issue; this is an American issue.”

Kings forward/guard Garrett Temple

“When the first protests came about and they surrounded Golden 1 Center I was just sitting there and I was kind of dumbfounded,” Christie said Saturday. “Whenever you have civic in your mind you’re thinking ‘what can I do?’ So I called someone I knew was involved in it, and he said ‘hold on a second,’ and lo and behold, he was able to get hold of Barry (Accius, a prominent local community activist who was leading the protests) outside. From that text we were able to bring Barry in. Then when I got in the building I talked to the head of security of the Kings and I said I might be able to get the head of the protests; would you meet with him?

“So Barry came in and Damien (Barling, a local radio host), Vince, Garrett, we all met with him. We talked for 45 minutes and we talked about doing something like that. Barry said ‘if I set something up, will you all be able to attend?’ And we all said absolutely.”

No one doubts the team’s sincerity. Well before the shooting, former Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, with the help of the team’s Director of Security, Hakeem Sylver, led a town hall discussion in 2016 that brought community members and police from both Sacramento and nearby Rosewood together. Temple started a relationship out of those town halls with Sacramento’s police chief, Daniel Hahn, the city’s first African-American police chief. The team hands out annual scholarships for local youth who do well both athletically and academically.

And Ranadive hasn’t been shy since buying the team in 2013 for $534 million, keeping it from being sold to a group that was planning to move it to Seattle. Ranadive worked with former NBA Commissioner David Stern to get a public-private agreement to build the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento.

He was one of the first owners to publicly condemn former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for racially charged remarks that ultimately led to the NBA stripping the franchise from Sterling and starting the process that led to Steve Ballmer buying it. Ranadive supported the league when it pulled the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte because of the North Carolina General Assembly’s passage of the so-called “Bathroom Bill,” which prohibited transgender people in the state from using public restrooms that they felt conformed to their gender identity.

But this is unchartered territory. And while the organization is committed now, the Kings’ season ends Wednesday. Players will leave town. The chance that the momentum created in the last couple of weeks could begin to dissipate as the Clark case works its way through the judicial system is large.

At the end of the day all we can do is put that out there and the people themselves have to push the lobbyists and their legislators to make those changes.”

Kings guard/forward Garrett Temple

The Kings have a big platform and a big (figurative) microphone, and the outreach matters. But they’re a basketball team, not a lobbying group, investigative force or legislative body. Can they have a real place at the table of possible solutions in the community?

They’ve pledged partnerships with Build. Black., a coalition of local grassroots groups including the Sierra Health Foundation, the Greater Sacramento Urban League and NAACP and local activists including Accius, Ryan McClinton of SacACT and Kellie Todd-Griffin of Sistallect, along with Sacramento BLM.

The Kings will have to vet potential next steps with those groups and other experts, and have conversations with the community. They’re not in the business of telling people in the community what they need. They don’t make policy. They will have to listen as much as they speak, because those groups have skin in the game — and, yes, that pun was intended.

“They have a role and a responsibility to be responsive to tragedies like Stephon Clark,” said Chet Hewitt, the president and CEO of Sierra Health, by phone Monday morning. “But even in a more proactive way, to be a part of the economic renaissance that you see taking place in so many inner-city neighborhoods. You know that part of the emerging NBA business model is downtown stadiums. And as you move back into the urban core, there’s often displacement that takes place, or an infusion of economic opportunity that has positive and negative consequences.

“The positive side is clearly the new building and new investment in those communities that has been lacking for a long time. The downside is increased property values and rental rates that sometimes exclude the people who have been living there. And so the question is, if you’re a thoughtful business owner … what is your responsibility to the people who have actually been there? How do you create opportunity for them to participate in the economic renaissance that’s already been there that you’ve been a part of, if not a driver of, and do so in a way that’s not only good for your business, but is also representative of your desire to be a good corporate citizen in that particular environment?”

The Kings did, after all, get almost $273 million in public investment toward construction of the $558 million Golden 1 Center, Hewitt noted.

Hewitt, Accius and other Build.Black members met with Ranadive and with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban before the Kings-Mavericks game March 27, in what Hewitt called a “thoughtful“ meeting.

“You can ensure that you have some black vendors in your arena,” Hewitt said. “…You can make sure that’s an opportunity for folks. And you can, as these entities do development in the areas immediately adjacent to these new arenas, they can also make sure that some of the build out of those hotels and new businesses also are made available to African-American vendors, but also other vendors of color as well. You can do that through project labor agreements if you’re doing construction; you can do that through a bidding process if you’re rehabbing buildings to make them new and shiny and presentable again. There are a number of ways you can do that.”

Hewitt has also asked the Kings to invest in redoing basketball courts, as they’ve done throughout the city, in the South Sacramento neighborhood where Clark’s grandmother lived. “I see kids with Kings hats,” he said. “I don’t see any Kings courts.”

He said Ranadive and the Kings were “incredibly receptive” to Build.Black. and its initiatives, and agreed to a three-year process to look at and perhaps implement some of its recommendations.

“We’re not looking for handouts,” Hewitt said. “We’re not saying put businesses that aren’t up to the standards that you may hold for your business enterprise. What we’re saying is that there are people who are poised and who are ready to both invest their energy and their time and motivation, and who just really want access to opportunity.”

And while everyone is coming to this in good faith, Hewitt and the coalition would like to see tangible results, whether after the season ends or soon down the road.

“What we have now is a commitment, and we’re working off of a basis of trust,” he said. “Seasons do start again. And the conditions that gave rise to the focus on the Kings won’t go away immediately. The community is expecting them to be addressed … teams often own arenas. And arenas do more than basketball. You can shut down concerts. You can shut down the monster trucks. If the business model is to draw attention to, and people to, those downtown spaces, and the social amenities that everyone enjoys, you don’t want to risk the ability of people to want to be in those spaces after you make deep investments.”

In the interim, the onus is on the Kings and the players to help keep driving the agenda once the players scatter to their offseason plans and back to their families.

“Vivek and the Kings org have done a great job of that and the players have done a good job of continuing the conversation,” Temple said. “At the end of the day all we can do is put that out there and the people themselves have to push the lobbyists and their legislators to make those changes. When I went to Matt’s rally it was a very diverse crowd, and that’s a great sign.”

Temple said he remains in contact with Accius and hopes to keep the momentum going through him.

“I’m going to have some conversations when I get to my hometown in Baton Rouge,” Temple said (his father, Collis Temple, was the first African-American basketball player at LSU). “As we know, this isn’t just a Sacramento issue; this is an American issue. I’m going to continue to keep the conversation going wherever I am in this country. I’m going to stay in Sacramento a little longer than I would in a normal situation because I adopted the high school. The biggest way to keep the momentum going is to make sure we continue to have our conversations no matter where we are.”

Christie grew up in Seattle, in the era of the Officer Friendly program. That program brought police officers into the schools at an early age to try and forge better relationships with students and the community in what was standard operating procedure. Police officers there, and then, handed out trading cards to kids of then-Seattle SuperSonics players like Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson and Jack Sikma. Kids would have to walk up to the cops and ask for the cards. Seeds of a relationship were formed and police were in the communities they served.

Many still try. But too many encounters are ending like the one with Clark. And the local basketball team, still a point of civic pride in a city that has its own identity separate from the business in the state capital that gleams in downtown, is trying to do more than just dribble and sell tickets.

“It’s odd that the community saved the Kings,” Christie said, “and now it’s coming full circle for the Kings to try and help save the community.”

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Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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