Daily protests continue in cities across America demanding racial justice. They serve to raise awareness to the mistreatment of Black Americans at the hand of the police as well as systemic oppression that’s been ingrained and enforced at every level of government as well as civil society. NBA players also lent their voices to the marches, spurred by the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. Among these athletes are members of the Dallas Mavericks.
Now, with the NBA season set to resume at the end of July, the Mavericks have a plan. Rather than let their return to play be a distraction from the movement encompassing the nation, they’re working on a unified message. Rather than stay silent on the injustice in the country, they’re using their platform when play resumes at the Walt Disney World Resort to amplify their voices.
“I think, first and foremost, as a team, we just have to make sure we’re on the same page to see what we’re going to do when we get to Orlando,” Mavericks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said in a Zoom call with reporters Monday. “I’m happy that the season is starting and I’m happy that it’s happening at this time so we can use our platform to express ourselves.”
This won’t be the first-time the Mavericks weigh in on the nation’s plight during the NBA’s hiatus. The team and its leadership have been very visible and outspoken as the nation as well as the city has come to terms with its grief, anger, and frustration. The organization released a statement on Floyd’s death and players Jalen Brunson, Justin Jackson, Maxi Kleber, and Dwight Powell attended a vigil for Floyd with owner Mark Cuban outside of Dallas Police Department headquarters at the end of May.
In June, the Mavericks held a first-of-its-kind event for the organization called Courageous Conversations. The purpose of the all-day gathering was to bring people together from within the organization as well as community leaders to discuss their personal experiences and feelings regarding racism and systemic inequity in their lives and communities. Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall organized the event after several long conversations with Black members of her staff who wanted an opportunity to express the pain they felt.
“What I wanted to do, and what we ended up doing, was to talk about systemic racism, because this stuff is systemic, some of this oppression, some of these injustices,” Marshall told me at the time. “I wanted to talk about the systems and yes, the criminal justice system is one piece, but why not talk about all the systems? I want to talk about the education system. I want to talk about the child welfare system.”
Both the NBA and National Basketball Coaches Association also issued statements strongly condemning the murders of Floyd and others as well as the ongoing racial injustice in the country. Still, even with all this, there are some players that feel that the NBA’s leap to restart, especially now, would hinder rather than help the movement.
As talks to resume the 2019-20 NBA season began heating up in late spring, there were several players that expressed their concern that the league would be a distraction from the on-going protests and fight for equity. Some 80 or so players participated in a Zoom call to discuss the merits of restarting the season amid social unrest and the growing threat from coronavirus in June. Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving was perhaps most vocal in his criticism.
“I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving reportedly told his peers. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit. Something smells a little fishy.”
The games will go on, though. In Orlando, players will have the option of swapping-out names on the back of their jerseys for a social message. The NBA and National Basketball Players Association also have plans to paint “Black Lives Matter” on the courts of all three arenas in which games will be held. These are symbolic gestures, however they’re ones that will be broadcast into millions of homes and around the world from July 30 through October 12.
Whatever the Mavericks decide to do, they have the blessing to proceed with whatever they decide upon from their owner. Cuban has said that he will support his players, even if they choose to make their statement during the national anthem.
“If they were taking a knee and they were being respectful, I’d be proud of them,” Cuban said in June. “Hopefully, I’d join them. … I’ll stand in unison with our players, whatever they choose to do. When our players in the NBA do what’s in their heart, when they do what they feel represents who they are, and look to move this country forward when it comes to race relationships, I think that’s a beautiful thing and I’ll be proud of them.”
When the Mavericks arrive in Orlando on July 8, they’re bringing much more than their desire to begin playing basketball again. They’re bringing a message. They might not have that message fleshed out entirely yet, but they’ll use the spotlight on them to draw attention to the systemic issues plaguing the nation because they can’t sit idly by and be silent. Especially not now.
“That’s what being an athlete and being on one of the biggest stages is all about: expressing yourself,” Hardaway said. “I’m happy that we’re going to be able to so that as a team. I’m pretty sure we’ll talk about that as the days go on, but for now, I’m happy that we’re going to start the season around this time. We want to make sure we use that platform to get our voices heard.”