For a league that’s trying to balance returning to play inside of a bubble with taking collective action to combat systemic racism and promote social justice in the United States, the NBA can take a cue from Jerami Grant.
After the Nuggets’ Wednesday evening practice at Walt Disney World, Grant fielded various questions from reporters but kept the conversation around an issue that’s critical to him.
“It’s great to be here with my teammates. It’s great to be back playing basketball,” Grant said in response to a question about the Disney World amenities. “But for me personally, and I think for a lot of players, it’s imperative that we focus on what’s really important in the world. One thing for me is Breonna Taylor’s killers are still roaming around free. I think I just want to focus on that in these interviews. I want to keep the focus there.”
Taylor, a 26-year-old African-American, was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department officers on March 13, 2020. Three plainclothes LMPD officers executed a no-knock search warrant and forced their way into Taylor’s apartment in an attempted drug sting. Gunfire was exchanged between Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker and the officers. Walker said he believed that the officers were intruders. The LMPD officers fired over twenty shots. Taylor was shot eight times.
Protests in Louisville and around the country have been ongoing since Taylor’s death. Tuesday night in Louisville, eighty-seven protesters demanding justice for Taylor were arrested and charged with a felony for protesting on the lawn of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
Grant was also asked Tuesday about Nikola Jokic, who practiced with the team for the first time at Disney World, and Troy Daniels, who the Nuggets signed in early March and has appeared in just one game with Denver.
“There’s a lot going on in the world right now with police brutality and racism and things like that. And I just want to keep the focus on that,” Grant said. “… Basketball is something I love and something that everybody here loves, but at the same time we’ve got to focus on what’s important.”
While back home in Washington D.C. during the NBA’ hiatus, Grant marched at Black Lives Matter protests with his family. Grant also said Tuesday that his foundation has been finding ways behind the scenes to give back to the community.
Throughout Tuesday’s Zoom call with the media, Grant continued to repeat the same message.
“Breonna Taylor’s killers are still roaming around free,” Grant said multiple times.
As a team, the Nuggets are also wanting to keep the conversation and spotlight on social justice and racism even with Denver’s first scrimmage and seeding game approaching. The first of the Nuggets’ three scrimmages is in seven days and Denver’s first seeding game against the Miami Heat is Aug. 1.
Michael Malone and his staff have continued to hold Zoom calls with organizations including My Brother’s Keeper, I Am a Voter, and different groups in the Denver community to find out which ones they can partner with to help bring about real change in the local community.
My Brother’s Keeper was launched by former President Barrack Obama in 2014 to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. According to their website, the organization “helps connect young people to mentoring, support networks, and the skills they need to find a good job or go to college and work their way into the middle class.”
I Am A Voter is a nonpartisan movement founded by activist Mandana Dayani that aims to create a cultural shift around voting and civic engagement by unifying around a central truth: our democracy works best when we all participate.
Malone applauded Grant for dedicating his Zoom conference to the memory and life of Taylor and added that he’s had various 1-on-1 and team-wide conversations with players over the last several weeks around how he and the team can continue to educate themselves and find ways to bring about sustainable and lasting change. The Nuggets are also continuing to discuss what they can do as a team once games begin.
One way that players are planning to use their platforms while at Disney World is by replacing the last name on the back of their jersey with a league-approved social justice message, something many Nuggets players are opting to do.
Social justice messages that will be placed on the backs of select Nuggets player's jerseys, per the team. pic.twitter.com/TpbxK6OuOe
— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) July 14, 2020
Grant isn’t and explained that in his opinion, continuing to use his words like he did Tuesday will be more impactful.
It will certainly be a challenge for teams to continue the conversation around racism and police brutality in the United States as they’re ramping up to resume play and chase an NBA championship. Coaches are having to navigate the unusual circumstances of the NBA bubble where they could be away from their families for the next three months while putting together a a game plan that will hopefully lead their team to success. Players are faced with the same adverse set of conditions.
But continuing the conversation around systematic racism and social justice is one of the league’s goals and priorities during the restart, as the NBA outlined when the Disney World plans were finalized. Grant is doing his part.
“Its a challenge, but we’re all in this together. I think not just the Denver Nuggets but all 22 teams that are here,” Malone said. “Our front office is here. Our players are here, and we’re just attacking this one day at a time knowing, is it perfect? No. It’s not. But I think guys understand that we have a platform to use. We can bring basketball back. We can hopefully bring some relief to a country that’s had a tremendously difficult year of 2020.”