NBA’s social justice focus a positive despite ‘terrible timing’ of restart, says VanVleet

Fred VanVleet wishes he could wear “everybody’s name ever” on the back of his Toronto Raptors jersey in honour of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Players will be permitted to replace their names on jerseys with statements on social justice when the NBA is scheduled to restart late next month after being shelved for four months due to COVID-19.

“I think it’s cool,” VanVleet said on a conference call Monday. “The only way [the NBA restart] is being consumed is on TV… people will always look back on these games and the first thing they’ll see is a fist on the court or a name and they’ll look and say ‘What is that?’ or ‘Who is Breonna Taylor?’ or ‘Who is George Floyd?’

“I haven’t picked what I want to put on the back yet. I’m going to have to do some research… try to come up with something that’s meaningful and that lasts.”

He said he plans to reach out to his high school coach — an African-American studies teacher — among others for advice.

The league’s restart comes amid racial unrest after the deaths of Floyd and Taylor, among other Black individuals, at the hands of police.

The past few weeks have seen explosive protests across the United States, and in other large cities around the world.

‘Terrible timing’

The timing of the restart has been a polarizing issue. Several players, including Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving and Los Angeles Lakers centre Dwight Howard, have said it’s wrong to play in the current climate.

“It sucks. It sucks, man. It’s terrible timing,” VanVleet said. “But that’s been 2020 for us. We all know the right thing to do is to not play, to take a stand. Morally, yes, that makes sense. But life goes on. We’re all young, Black guys. None of us want to give any money back. I don’t think that we should. I think that money can be used in a number of different ways.”

The NBA, a leader in encouraging players to use their voices in protest, said a focus of the league’s restart will be to use its significant platform to address social injustice and racial inequality.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri said there are productive discussions going on at numerous levels.

“With my platform, with my position, how am I trying to help and really push with these issues and how we solve them?” he said. “I know Fred is doing things individually, Kyle [Lowry] is doing things on his own, Bobby [Webster, Raptors GM] is doing things on his own, Nick [Nurse, Toronto’s head coach] is doing things on his own.

“Then we have to do things collectively. We’ve formed a nice little committee composed of players and coaches and front office members and we’re going to tackle this matter, as hard as we can, because it’s so important to us, and the momentum is now.”

VanVleet said racial injustice and police brutality won’t be eradicated quickly.

“All these things are not ending any time soon. Our fight was long term. That was part of my decision,” the Raptors guard said. “But if the league, or more of my guys would have come together and said ‘We didn’t want to play,’ I would have sat out as well. I wouldn’t have even fought it.”

VanVleet said he’ll trust that his heart was in the right place in deciding to return, and that he’s doing enough to push for change.

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