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Every year, toward the end of the regular season, all 30 NBA franchises take part in a team photo. The coaching staff, front office, traveling party, and more join the players to commemorate the season with a photo shoot. The non-players always match, typically in formal wear, while the players don their respective teams’ jerseys as if they were ready to suit up in a game.
This season, the Wizards broke from that tradition, instead deciding to make a statement with their team photo. On Thursday, none of the players wore their usual attire, instead wearing black t-shirts with one of the following three words: accountability, equality, or justice. The rest of the staff wore black to stand in solidarity with their players.
Accountability from our nation’s law enforcement, politicians, local leadership, and all citizens. Equality for all, an end to systemic racism and any profiling based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or country of origin. Justice as a foundation for a safe and fair society.
“It’s definitely a statement piece for us,” Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal explained on Thursday. “Obviously, we’re a team and we do everything together. We’re still citizens of this country and this world. This is us just choosing a few words that we kind of live by, that we kind of hold ourselves to as men and as teammates. Hopefully, the rest of the world can follow suit and do the same as we try to make it a better place.”
“Our players are committed, our organization is committed to continue to be allies, to continue to stand up for the oppressed, to continue to try to make this world a better place,” Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said. “Our players are going to continue to be vocal. They will always have our support. We absolutely want to see a better world.”
Juneteenth in 2020, the Wizards and Mystics joined together to protest racial injustice across the country. The theme of the march was Together We Stand, a united statement from a group of athletes unafraid to stand up for what’s right. Russell Westbrook, still with the Houston Rockets at the time of June 19, 2020, also participated in a virtual Juneteenth march that featured now Vice President Kamala Harris.
“I think the significance of this year is bigger than basketball – this year, overall, has been difficult for everyone,” Westbrook said. “I think it’s amazing how we as a team are doing something a little different, having shirts that actually have substantial meaning behind it. I’m grateful to be a part of the first team to do something like that since I’ve been in the league.”
“Our players are standing for what needs to be done,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. “Change needs to take place and our organization has been a big proponent of backing our players and coaches. For the players to not wear the jersey like a normal photo shoot or for coaches to wear a suit…The way things are right now, I think it’s just perfect timing and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
With everything going on in the world in the past year-plus, not to mention injustice spanning hundreds of years, simple statements and small gestures go a long way. The Wizards chose to make a statement with their team photo, just like they did at their Juneteenth march. The players may not be able to be out in the streets protesting during the season, but continuing to stand together, regardless of the players’ backgrounds or home countries, shows how a team can still do its part in an ever-changing world.