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NBA coaches, players react to breach of U.S. Capitol

Many point out the double standard in how those who breached the Capitol were treated by law enforcement compared to people of color who protest.

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics kneeled before their game Wednesday.

Images, video footage and news reports of Donald Trump supporters breaching the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday elicited strong reactions from within the NBA community, with some questioning whether a double standard exists in how law enforcement officials handle peaceful protests involving people of color.

Ahead of the league’s 11-game slate on Wednesday, coaches and players around the NBA watched several shocking scenes unfold as groups of protestors broke through barriers and destroyed property inside the Capitol building.

“It’s pretty disturbing, obviously. Sad,” Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday ahead of his team’s matchup against the Washington Wizards. “But what is not is I keep hearing this is an attack on democracy. It’s not. Democracy will prevail. It always does. It shows a lot, though. You know, when you saw the protests in the summer and you saw the riots, or more the police and the National Guard and the Army, and then you see this, and you saw nothing. It basically proves a point about a privileged life in a lot of ways.

“I’ll say it because I don’t think a lot of people want to,” Rivers added. “Could you imagine today if those were all black people storming the Capitol and what would have happened? So that, to me, is a picture that’s worth a thousand words for all of us to see, and probably something for us to reckon with. Again, you know, no police dogs turned on people, no billy clubs hitting people; people peacefully being escorted out of the Capitol. So, it shows that you can disperse a crowd peacefully, I guess. But it’s a sad day in a lot of ways; not good for our country.”

Rivers wasn’t alone in pointing out the differences in the presence of law enforcement officials and their actions during Wednesday’s protests at the Capitol, compared to the vast resources utilized to quell unrest over the summer involving the Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd.

In Miami, before the Boston Celtics squared off against the Miami Heat, the players issued a joint statement and indicated there was some thought of not playing the nationally televised game.

In Milwaukee, the Bucks and Detroit Pistons each took turnovers on their first possessions — intentionally, with all 10 players on the court kneeling.

In Atlanta, Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said “it’ll never change” until the country acknowledges the difference in how law enforcement treats people of color, compared to non-minorities.

“It’ll never change unless there’s acknowledgement in the past with regards to how African Americans have always been treated in the history of that and going back to slavery and going back to Reconstruction and going back to civil rights,” Pierce said. “You can’t say that things are going to change if you don’t acknowledge that it’s a problem. What you’re seeing today is a reminder there’s a huge difference. There’s a reason why there [aren’t] shooting and brutality and looting and things of that nature, and people are just walking around the Capitol building as if it’s nothing; and people sitting in [Speaker of the House of Representatives] Nancy Pelosi’s office as if it’s nothing.

“We all understand that there would’ve been guns ablaze and fires ablaze right now if there were Black people protesting, and if there were Black people protesting on the outside. We haven’t even mentioned the inside and tearing up the building.

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Doc Rivers: ‘Could you imagine today if those were all black people storming the capitol and what would have happened? ‘

“But nothing is going to change until we acknowledge there is a huge difference in how Black people are treated in regard to law enforcement,” Pierce added. “That just hasn’t happened. We’ve been fighting about that. There’s been protests about that. There’s a reason why people have encouraged others to get out and vote to change leaders. But until you truly acknowledge there is a difference in how Black people are treated in this country, and especially in regard to law enforcement in situations like this, that’s not going to change.”

New Orleans Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy expressed similar sentiments, and posted a Tweet rhetorically asking how law enforcement would have handled Wednesday’s incident had it involved Black Lives Matters protesters.

“Would the federal response at the Capitol now be the same if it were Black Lives Matters protesters physically forcing their way into the building?” Van Gundy wrote. “Remember the response in Oregon that was said to be needed to protect federal property?”

Hired back in October to replace Alvin Gentry as head coach of the Pelicans, Van Gundy has long advocated for social justice, and once told Marc Spears of The Undefeated that “I only know about these issues, and these problems, and these inequities from people I’ve been associated with, work with, know, care about,” before adding that “just because something doesn’t happen to you, if it’s happening to people you know, if it’s happening to people you care about, you care about the issue.”

NBA TV analysts discuss the siege at the Capitol

Multiple active and inactive NBA players expressed similar depths of concern on Twitter.

“An absolute disgrace what’s happening at the US Capitol right now,” Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love posted to Twitter. “And a blatant example of inequity in how law enforcement chooses to deal with those involved.”

Jamal Crawford tweeted that “you do things like this when you know there is a certain privilege where nothing is gonna happen to you.”

Meanwhile, Chicago Bulls guard Garrett Temple tweeted that he was neither shocked or embarrassed by Wednesday’s events.

“I scan my timeline and keep seeing the word “embarrassing,”” Temple wrote. “I’m not embarrassed, I’m not surprised, or shocked even. Embarrassed would mean that I feel a sense of shame by what is going on. I have no such feeling. These people do not come close to being a representation of me.”

Rivers’ opponent on Wednesday night, Scott Brooks, head coach of the Washington Wizards, called Wednesday’s events “sad and embarrassing.”

“We should be better than this. What I see in the videos, it’s disgusting,” Brooks said. “This is a special place. You just hope that everybody from there, our fans; everybody’s safe. This should not be allowed. It’s unacceptable. This is America’s Capitol. You should not be able to do what I saw on video. It’s disgusting, it’s embarrassing, and it should never happen. We have to [play]. This is our job. This is what we have to do. It’s a couple hours out of the day. We all feel the same. It’s just disgusting, but we have to be better. Democracy is there for a reason. It’s all everybody has fought for.”

NBAPA executive director Michele Roberts spoke to ESPN in the aftermath of Wednesday’s events, and like many of her colleagues around the league, pointed out the racial double standard that the breaching of the U.S. Capitol displayed to the entire country.

We saw a Black police officer being chased, and players said to me, ‘So this is what they can do?’ And people don’t get this privilege stuff. I know how they’re feeling,” Roberts told ESPN. “I am so angry and pained — and refusing to cry. It reminded me of something that James Baldwin said, when asked what it was like to be a Negro in the United States of America. He said that if you’re conscious of what’s going on in the country, and you’re a Negro, you’re in a constant state of rage.

“On a day like this, it’s the first thing that comes to mind. And all I can say is that I’m grateful knowing that hopefully nobody who looks like me is going to Capitol Hill to respond to this, because if they do, you’ll see a different response by law enforcement. You know it — and I know it.”

When the 2019-20 NBA season returned from a COVID-19 hiatus back in July, the league allowed “Black Lives Matter” to be painted on the courts, approved social justice messages on the backs of players’ jerseys and allowed coaches and players to kneel during the player of the national anthem.

The league’s collective activism was on full display.

After the Jacob Blake shooting by law enforcement in Kenosha, Wisconsin back in August, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to not play their first-round playoff game against the Orlando Magic. On Tuesday, Kenosha (WI) County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced he would not bring charges against the police officer who shot and paralyzed Blake.

That announcement and what took place at the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday seemed significant in undermining much of the efforts put forth around the NBA and the WNBA, which has in many respects led the charge.

Houston Rockets coach Stephen Silas struggled to articulate what the world witnessed at the U.S. Capitol building.

“There’s so many layers to it. There’s what’s going on at the Capitol building and then there’s the why, and then there’s the way for that; the division and all this other stuff,” Silas said. “There is a long history of division in our country when it comes to political party. But it seems like right now, there is more of a division in just like, humanity. That’s what I’m grappling with and struggling with right now.”

Oklahoma City Thunder coach Mark Daigneault viewed the incident as a reminder of how much progress is still needed in this country, starting with some serious reflection.

“Obviously, it’s appalling and pretty surreal. This is a great country,” Daigneault said. “But it’s also one where there’s times where it’s hard to recognize ourselves. The distance between who we want to be, who we think we are and who we really are sometimes is vast at certain times. This, along with a long string of events in recent history is just yet another reminder of how far we have to go.”

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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