Steps forward, steps back: Raptors reflect on a tumultuous 48 hours in US

by Chris O'Leary

He was asked a basketball question but Kyle Lowry’s mind was elsewhere, like so many of us on Wednesday night. 

It was about 11 hours since the world came to a record-scratching stop and looked on in disbelief at what it was seeing in Washington, DC. Protestors turning into insurgents, forcing their way into the U.S. Capitol building, determined to stop the electoral college from certifying president-elect Joe Biden’s November victory at the polls. 

“Honestly, basketball doesn’t matter,” Lowry said. 

“What occurred on Capitol Hill disturbed me. The fact that people were allowed to basically rush in and take over a federal building without any type of...enforcement, to do that and just do whatever they want. If they were people of colour I think it would have been a whole different situation. 

“We say 2021 is a new year but the same situations are still prevalent and in our face. Then what happened with Kenosha and the officer not being charged, it’s kind of a slap in the face to Black people all over the world.” 

There’s been a step-forward, 10-steps-back feel to the last 48 hours. As Lowry mentioned, on Tuesday it was announced that the officer that shot Jacob Blake seven times this summer, leaving him paralyzed from the waist-down, will not face charges. 

Then on Tuesday night, a pair of democrats won their senate runoff elections in Georgia. Members of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream -- the team owned by the defeated incumbent Kelly Loefler -- and NBA players used their platforms to encourage fans in Georgia to get active and vote. Wins for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock tilted control of the senate to democrats and marked a stark political change in a state that had long voted republican. 

That ray of light was darkened on Thursday when things got ugly in DC. 

“Disturbing. Disgusting. Incredulous. Sad,” a somber Nick Nurse said of the Blake ruling and what he’d seen before the game tipped off. 

“This seems to not stop and it seems to not improve.” 

“No surprise to me,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. 

“I think if you've been paying attention the last few years, even longer than that, I think we can kind of see what's going on. I grew up in this world, in this country so I'm used to it. That's not a good thing but that’s the way things are, so I'm not surprised anymore by anything. 

“We’ve just got to keep doing our part individually and collectively. My message to people that are in my life is just you’ve got to stay together and continue to build as best we can inside this broken system -- and it's a flawed system. It preys on the weak and less fortunate and spits them out. This is the world that we live in and if you don't know what it is by now, then you probably don't know what it is, or you just haven’t been paying attention. 

“America has been racist, is probably going to continue to be racist. We have to continue to try to do our part inside of that system.” 

Lowry met with Suns guard Chris Paul prior to the game and the two decided to have their teams link together in a circle at midcourt before tipoff. It was one of a number of displays of unity from NBA teams on Wednesday night. This all comes four months after Blake’s shooting brought the playoffs to a halt in the bubble in Florida. There was a similar feeling when those playoff games were cancelled on Aug. 26, of the world’s attention fixed on one thing for that moment. It comes and goes, good and bad. 

“It’s a continuous conversation that we have to have,” Lowry said, shouting out the work the activism work the WNBA players did with the Georgia runoffs, “showing the power of women, Black women.” 

“We're strong Black men and we’re always going to continue to use our voice and our platform to make sure that our voices are heard,” he continued. “The things that happen in the world, we’re going to talk about them, discuss them. We're not going to shy away from them. It’s what we’re here to do. We're always going to make sure our voice is heard.” 

At the end of one of the most frightening days of our time Lowry was like many of us, talking on a Zoom call while the news pulled his gaze away from it. 

“It never does (get easier),” he said as he saw and read out a headline about the four people that died at the Capitol.  

“The man that’s the president incited it. That man is a criminal. He should be charged,” he said. “It’s crazy. That is crazy. He basically told them to go do this and people died. How is that cool?” 

He sat there, looking more exhausted emotionally than physically and took in the insanity of the situation, of what’s hopefully the worst, most blatant disrespect of democracy that we see in our lives. Steps forward, steps backward. The basketball game felt like it was a world away. Lowry stood up, thanked his audience for its time and walked out of the room.  

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