Nate Bjorkgren, Edmond Sumner
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Bjorkgren Talks Basketball, Social Issues, and their Impact During Panel Discussion

by Brendan Rourke
Pacers.com Contributor

Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren participated in a six-person panel Tuesday night as part of Pacers Sports & Entertainment's Black History Month Coaches Symposium. The 60-minute conversation discussed the intersection of race in sports and how basketball can create a positive change in the community. The first-year head coach joined Pacers Sports & Entertainment Vice President of Communications Quinn Buckner, Indiana Fever head coach Marianne Stanley, and others via Zoom. Each member of the group shared anecdotes describing how basketball and coaching have made a significant impact in their lives.

Bjorkgren began by describing his time in the NBA bubble with his former team, the Toronto Raptors. The three months of living alongside his team, combined with the events surrounding the death of George Floyd, gave him a chance to "listen" to his players.

"I listened to the current team that I was on," he said. "And the things that the players had gone through in their lives, the experiences that they've experienced, and that their family had experienced."

He then explained how the bubble ignited his desire to join the Black Lives Matter movement.

"(It) was very powerful," he said. "Led by the players — they had a major platform (for) talking on issues of racism, social justice, togetherness, and equality.

"A lot of people look at our players as just basketball players and athletes, and they're so much more than that. They're such great people, and the things they do in this community, for the country, and the world are unbelievable. It's a real honor to be a part of that."

Later, the panel transitioned into a discussion about the ability to learn from your mistakes as a coach. In a moment of honesty, Bjorkgren reflected upon what he would do differently during his early coaching days knowing what he does now.

"I wish I would've talked to my players more, early in my career," he said. He then spoke directly to the other head coaches listening, stating that while winning is important, it's also important to understand your players' lives beyond the court.

"When I met with Myles (Turner), when I met with Malcolm (Brogdon)," he paused. "When I met with Victor (Oladipo) before he was traded, when I met with Domas (Sabonis), Aaron (Holiday), all of them — I didn't talk basketball right away. I talked about life and what they're doing in the community. I wish I would have done it earlier in my career."

He then praised both Brogdon's work in Indianapolis and Turner's recent viral campaign to raise funds for families impacted by the abnormally cold temperatures in Texas.

As the discussion ended, coach Bjorkgren added his final thoughts on what everyone can do to continue making a positive change moving forward. He explained that it starts with instilling positive values from a young age.

"Our children are born with pure hearts," he stated. "My children, your children, everybody's children are born with pure hearts. My children don't see color. They see people, and they always will see people. This is something that as a youth basketball coach — we have to educate the youth...the constant teaching and education that we can give them is for the better."

The symposium concluded with a virtual Q&A session about basketball skills and drills featuring Pacers radio and television analyst Eddie Gill and Fever guard Kathleen Doyle.

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