Hours before the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the floor in a historic NBA boycott on Wednesday, the Toronto Raptors were considering a similar protest.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse said the idea of a boycott "is on the table" after players from his team and the Boston Celtics met Tuesday night in advance of their second-round playoff series that is scheduled to tip off Thursday evening.
"They want to be part of a solution, they want to help, they want justice . . . Boycotting the game has come up for them as a way to demand a little more action, and I think that's really what they want," Nurse told reporters a couple of hours before the Bucks were scheduled to play Orlando in Game 5 of their opening-round series.
"I think there's enough attention, and there's not quite enough action."
The Bucks were scheduled to play Orlando in Game 5 of their opening-round series Wednesday, but never stepped onto the court for warmup.
The NBA later announced that all three playoff games scheduled for Wednesday had been postponed.
On the eve of the Raptors' second-round playoff series opener against Boston, the discussion focused on how teams can protest systemic racism and police brutality against Black people. Amplifying messages about racial injustice was a theme of the NBA's restart in the bubble at Walt Disney World in Florida, but after the police shooting of Jacob Blake last weekend, players are fed up.
There is heartache and frustration.
Nurse said he's heard a couple of his players discussing leaving the NBA campus and going home, though he doesn't know if that is a team-wide belief.
"It just feels like we're stuck. It feels like things are not changing. It feels like we're not doing anything productive, basically. That's how it feels," said Raptors forward Pascal Siakam. "Those things hurt. I don't care where you're from . . . just seeing that and just knowing that every day it happens and it feels normal, just seeing Black men being shot every day, that hurts, man."
The 26-year-old Siakam said he wouldn't watch the video of Blake being shot multiple times in the back by police in Wisconsin.
The Raptors' all-star said watching the death of George Floyd on video — Floyd died after a white police officer pressed his knee against Floyd's neck on May 25 — had traumatized him.
The Raptors have been at the forefront of the NBA's social justice initiatives, arriving to the league's Walt Disney World campus earlier this summer in buses with "Black Lives Matter" written in huge block letters, and asking for justice for Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people who have been killed by police. They've knelt for both the American and Canadian anthems before games.
Nurse, who was recently named NBA coach of the year, said he can only listen to his players, and supports whatever decision they make.
"I'm trying to give them a forum to talk as much and often as I can. I'm trying to respect their priorities, and also give them some of my own personal thoughts," Nurse, wearing an orange WNBA hoodie, said on his Zoom media availability.
"I've had couple very deep, personal discussions with these guys here this morning about playing, not playing, being in the bubble, leaving the bubble, coming to the bubble. All these things and I just give them my own personal opinion on it."
He has heard of his players discussing going home, but doesn't know if "that's a team-wide thing."
This fight is personal for the Raptors.
Last week, video emerged of a law enforcement officer shoving Masai Ujiri as the team president tried to get on the court following the Toronto's title-clinching win over the Golden State Warriors last year in Oakland, Calif.
The video was part of a countersuit, following a lawsuit by Alameda County sheriff's deputy Alan Strickland.
"I think that we've got some pretty conscientious guys," Nurse said. "We obviously have the footage and the situation with Masai, and our team just saw that recently as well, so there is some personal-ness to this."
The day before the Raptors tip off what is expected to be a much tougher series than their 4-0 opening-round sweep of Brooklyn, Siakam was asked if it's difficult to focus on playing basketball amidst the dark cloud of racial injustice.
"There's really a lot of things that are way bigger than basketball going on," he said. "You want to be able to play, you want to be able to, because at the end of the day, we know that basketball brings something to people. But at the same time, just seeing that happening every day, man, it's tough. It hurts. . . yeah, it hurts."
The Celtics, who swept their first-round series with Philadelphia, echoed the Raptors' thoughts of frustration.
"We're over here, guys are crying, guys are hurting right now because of what's going on," said Boston forward Grant Williams. "You never know if that's your brother. What if that was my cousin? What if that was my family member? That's something that weighs down on you."
Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said the discussion to boycott started with the Raptors, but that players on other teams are also talking about it. The Celtics forward knows people will ask: What is sitting out going to do?
"Obviously if we sit out a game or the rest of the playoffs, we understand how big of an impact that will have," he said. "Everybody's going to have to talk about it, continue to raise awareness. We don't want to just keep playing and forget about what's going on in the outside world, because it’s affecting us. We're more than just basketball players, we're people. And we have these raw emotions and feelings."
Before gathering in Florida for the NBA's restart, Tatum pointed out that players were able to be on the front lines to protest, and many of them did, including Raptors' point guard Kyle Lowry. Now there's a feeling of being trapped in the bubble.
"We're in this bubble and we're isolated from everyone else and that's frustrating," the Celtics forward said. "I know some guys have talked about going home."
Being a Black man in America, Tatum said, is "more important than what I do on the basketball court. . .When you think of a man getting shot seven times in the back with his kids in the car, that's way more important."
Boston coach Brad Stevens said he hasn't heard much talk from his team on potentially boycotting games. He said the Celtics have met to allow players to speak about their feelings.
"I just simply said, each individual, we support 110 per cent," Stevens said. "This is not easy. From the standpoint of being down here and feeling like you're in this place that you can't leave. . . totally understand anybody's reaction to what's going on outside of here and the desire to do more. Or the desire to not play. Or the desire to leave."
On the court, Nurse said Lowry did not practise Wednesday.
The six-time all-star guard suffered an ankle sprain when he stepped on the foot of Chris Chiozza late in the first quarter of Toronto's 150-122 series-clinching rout of Brooklyn on Sunday night. He is considered day-to-day.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published August 26, 2020.
Lori Ewing , The Canadian Press