The Nets went into Game 4 of their first-round series against the defending NBA champion Raptors facing an 0-3 deficit and trying to win just one playoff basketball game Sunday night at Disney World in Orlando.
But whether they were able to extend the series or were forced to pack their bags sooner than hoped, the Nets all understand that what they will take away from the experience goes far beyond basketball.
From the moment commissioner Adam Silver began negotiations with the National Basketball Players Association about the re-start, social concerns were at the forefront because of the protest movement sweeping the country in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Many players feared the protest movement might get overshadowed by the resumption of games, but the NBA found creative ways to keep the message in front of its audience. The vast majority of players have linked arms and knelt during the national anthem in remembrance of Floyd and other victims of police brutality, the “Black Lives Matter” slogan is painted on the court, and many players are wearing a variety of social messages on the backs of their jerseys.
“In terms of social justice, I think it’s been really big for us to continue to push the message,” said Nets guard Garrett Temple, who is an NBPA vice-president. “Guys have been getting together and talking to each other, finding guys that have like-minded values and thoughts and things they agree on in terms of what policies they want to see changed.”
The message on Temple’s jersey is: “Education Reform.” He looked around the league and saw twins Marcus and Markieff Morris were wearing that same message along with Kyle Lowry, CJ McCollum and Kent Bazemore. Temple said players with the same jersey message have connected.
“We want to see a lot of different things change, but what we’ve specifically put on our jerseys is obviously something dear to our hearts,” Temple said. “There have been discussions, we have had a text thread, and we’ll continue to talk about these things moving forward.
“It’s very big that people are wearing these messages on their jerseys when . . . kids are watching these games for the first time to be able to see that Chris Paul believes in ‘Equality.’ A six-year-old kid may ask what does that mean? They see ‘Group Economics’ on the back of Anthony Tolliver’s jersey and may ask what that means. Subconsciously, we’re educating people, opening people’s eyes to view things differently, to maybe do more research on things they would not have done had we not had these messages.”
As a coach, the Nets Jacque Vaughn has not limited himself to simply educating his players about Xs and Os. He has shared life lessons with them, reading topics and has encouraged political discussions.
“I’m hoping that it’s the catalyst of a lot of conversations to be had going forward,” Vaughn said. “Whether it was the conversations you didn’t have, whether it was the conversations I’ve had with myself, with former teammates, with the players that I’m coaching now, whether it’s people in our organization that have taken steps to make those conversations more comfortable and have those conversations.
“I think the biggest takeaway is there’s more work to be done, and are you willing to do the work? That’s the challenge. But we’re forever linked with this opportunity of being here and being a part of this social change and embracing it and being a positive part of it.”
Between social justice issues and the COVID-19 pandemic, Temple said 2020 has been a difficult time. “It’s going down in history,” Temple said, “but hopefully, we’ll be able to come out stronger as a team, as a country, as a community.”