2020 Playoffs | East Semifinals: (2) Raptors vs. (3) Celtics

Raptors pause basketball talk after Jacob Blake shooting

Team believes more needs to be done in order to effect real societal change

The conference semifinals are two days away, but the Toronto Raptors aren’t talking about the Boston Celtics right now. When the Raptors spoke to the media from the NBA campus in Orlando on Tuesday, there was no discussion of how they’re going to guard Jayson Tatum.

There was the briefest of updates on Kyle Lowry’s left ankle injury. The All-Star point guard didn’t practice on Tuesday and is “day-to-day,” according to Raptors head coach Nick Nurse.

Mostly, there was frustration. Frustration after seeing video of another Black man, Jacob Blake, being shot by police. Blake is hospitalized after being shot in the back seven times while opening a car door in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“I was pretty excited [about the Boston series] and then we all had to watch Jacob Blake get shot yesterday,” Fred VanVleet said. “So that kind of changes the tone of things and puts things in perspective. That’s really kind of all that’s been on my mind.

“Coming down here and making the choice to play was supposed to not be in vain. But it’s just starting to feel like everything we’re doing is just going through the motions and nothing’s really changing. And here we are again with another unfortunate incident. So my thoughts today are with that man and his family.”

Not long after the Raptors spoke, Celtics forward Jaylen Brown expressed similar anguish, saying that, going forward, when he sees the No. 7 on his jersey, “what I see is a black man being shot seven times.”

The Raptors arrived in Orlando aboard two buses emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” messaging. But Norman Powell expressed similar feelings as VanVleet about the futility of what’s been said and done thus far. Asked about the possibility of players boycotting games, he said that “it’s been talked about.”

“There are a lot of things that are being talked about in how to approach this sensitive issue,” Powell said. “I think everybody’s at the point of sitting up here and saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ and sitting up having discussions and Zoom calls and this, that and the other, putting apparel on. That’s not getting the job done. Taking a knee for the anthem, that’s not getting the job done. It’s starting to get washed out.

“Something has to happen to where you’re forcing those people who can effect and make the change to do something.”

“We knew coming here or not coming here was not going to stop anything,” VanVleet said. “But I think ultimately playing or not playing puts pressure on somebody.”

He added that the player’s actions could influence Milwaukee Bucks ownership to put pressure on state and local officials in Wisconsin “to make real change and get some justice.”

“I know it’s not that simple,” VanVleet continued, “but at the end of the day, if we’re going to sit here and talk about making change then at some point we’re going to have to put our nuts on the line and actually put something up to lose, rather than just money or visibility. I’m just over the media aspect of it. It’s sensationalized. We talk about it everyday. That’s all we see, but it just feels like a big pacifier to me.”

Nurse’s job in this situation is to prepare for Game 1 on Thursday, but also to put that on the back burner for as long as necessary.

“We had a fairly long team gathering this morning. I wouldn’t call it a team meeting because it wasn’t really basketball related,” he said. “I like to acknowledge that if nobody feels like playing basketball or talking about basketball or anything, that’s OK.”

But Nurse thinks that basketball should be played.

“We have a platform here,” he said, “and I think playing still gives us a chance to still use that platform rather than not playing does. That has not changed for me and I think the issues need to continue to be dealt with and talked about seriously.”

The question is what follows the talk and exactly how the issues get dealt with.

“It’s on all of us to actually stand up and demand things,” Powell said, “and get in front of these people’s faces that make the laws and have the power to fully effect change, and force them to. Until that is done, ain’t **** gonna change.

“I’m going to sit up here and answer your guys’ questions and continue to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and make and effect change. But until we all who believe that and see what’s going on are ready to step up and lay it on the line to make real change and move towards real progress and take the ones that don’t belong in that field out, we’re going to keep seeing it over and over again.”

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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