Thursday was all about the return to basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers. Until it wasn’t.
After losing their first scrimmage match to the Dallas Mavericks, LeBron James was called for a post-game media scrum to talk about how the team looked in their first game since March. Instead, he shifted the focus immediately to Breonna Taylor and the Black Lives Matter movement, opening his answer to the first question like so:
“First of all, I want to continue to shed light on justice for Breonna Taylor and to her family and to everything that’s going on with that situation.”
Taylor was a Black woman who was killed by three Louisville police officers in her own home. The police officers used a no-knock warrant to enter the wrong home looking for a suspect that had already been taken into police custody. The tragic loss occured in March. Since then, one officer has been fired and the others have been placed on administrative leave. None of the three have been arrested.
James continued with what he believed to be the proper justice for Taylor and her family:
“We want the cops arrested who committed that crime,” James said. “Obviously in the state of Kentucky, what’s going on down there, I know a lot of people that’s feeling the same. Us, as the NBA and as the players, and me, as one of the leaders of this league, I want her family to know and I want the state of Kentucky to know that we feel for her and we want justice. That’s what it’s all about. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong and this is a wrong situation that’s going on in my eyes and a lot of other eyes not only here in America but around the world as well.
“Same energy we have on the floor is the same energy that we have towards having justice for Breonna Taylor and her family.”
The NBA and its players have been trying to use their time in Orlando as an opportunity to continue to shed light on nationwide protests that have stemmed from the killing of innocent Black people like Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery in recent months. But while many of the gestures have been criticized as empty or simply symbolic, James has had a career filled with these moments where he has been asked for his thoughts on being Black in America. It arguably started in 2012 when Trayvon Martin was killed at the age of 17 in Florida, near where James was playing basketball for the Miami Heat. Eight years later, not much has changed.
“It’s just who I’ve been for a while now. Never afraid to speak about things that I was knowledgable about, that I had insight on, and that I was up to speed on. With the Trayvon Martin case, obviously years ago, I spoke about that situation. With the George Floyd incident that happened not too long ago, that’s a horrible incident. And obviously, with the Breonna Taylor situation; it’s fortunate that we had the George Floyd video to see it.”
James continued, “I mean is that what we need to see? A video of Breonna being killed for people to realize how bad the situation is? I don’t even believe they was in the right place, right? Cops wasn’t even in the right place. They just knocked down the wrong door and started doing what they do at that point and that’s to shoot away. That’s just not okay. I never shied away from being who I am and speaking on that not only affect me, that hit home for me but also affect my community and affect people Black people cause we’ve been going through a lot. I’ve seen a video today of a Black man inside of a Walmart or Target or wherever trying to buy a bike for his son. He had a receipt and everything and the cops was called and they arrested him inside the store and they took him outside. It’s just heartbreaking, man.
“You guys don’t understand unless you’re a person of color. You guys don’t understand. You might feel for us but you will never truly understand what it is to be Black in America.”
LeBron was then asked about decals on the court he played on stating “Black Lives Matter” but instead he gave a powerful statement on why it should be called a lifestyle rather than a movement.
“A lot of people use this analogy, saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ is a movement. It’s not a movement. When you’re Black, it’s not a movement. It’s a lifestyle. We sit here and say, ‘Okay it’s a movement. How long is this movement going to last? Don’t stop this movement.’ No, this is a walk of life. You wake up and you’re Black. That is what it is. It shouldn’t be a movement. It should be a lifestyle. This is who we are. We understand that. We know that for one step that someone else might have to take or for one yard someone else might have to take, we know we gotta take five more steps. We know we gotta take ten more yards to get to the endzone. We understand that. We know that. But that’s also what makes us strong. It makes us powerful. It makes us so unique and unified. We’ve had so much hardships in our life, either from personal experiences, or loved ones, or reading history, or seeing videos, Rodney King, or just being a part of communities that you’re in where you’re just racially profiled from the time you come out of the womb. It’s not a movement. I don’t like the word movement. Because unfortunately in America, in society, there ain’t been no damn movement for us. There ain’t been no movement.”
James showed similar resolve when asked if he felt there had been any progress since 2014 when NBA teams including his Cavaliers and the Lakers, then led by Kobe Bryant, wore “I can’t breathe” shirts during violent protests in Ferguson, Missouri after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer.
“In 2016, Barack [Obama] was our president. You see what’s going on now. Is that really progress? I think we can all sit here and say that’s not progress. The conversations that are being had right now and how many people are really listening or just having conversations, trying to make things happen, I think that’s progress. We’ve got a long way to go.”
When asked what he thought would be progress, James again shifted the focus to getting justice for Taylor, now, but also maintained the importance of continuing conversations so that we could see the changes we all want to see in our communities.
James is not the only Laker who has used this opportunity to raise awarness. On Wednesday, Alex Caruso answered all basketball questions given to him by the media by calling for justice for Taylor. Dwight Howard has been using his social media to teach his followers about Black history. Danny Green and JaVale McGee, among others, showed up to protests during the break from basketball. Quinn Cook wrote the names of several victims of Black violence on his shoes on Thursday.
Playing for y’all ❤️❤️❤️🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽 pic.twitter.com/xIhR9IedNw
— Quinn Cook (@QCook323) July 23, 2020
But in a league that has been dominated on and off the court by LeBron since nearly the moment he stepped into it, it’s his words that often carry the most weight. An impromptu conversation about social justice immediately after one of the most anticipated games of the season was a brilliant way to continue to heighten awareness and keep focus on Breonna Taylor and Black Lives Matter even as basketball returns to serve as a distraction for many people.
As Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said this week, it’s a critical time for the entire country right now to finally shift the momentum in creating a more just and equal society. Protests have been ongoing for months and the American public seems to be becoming more understanding of what being Black in America is, even if that ignorance is dying far too late. There’s still an extremely long way to go, to be sure, and Taylor’s case is a perfect example of what it takes to get justice in these circumstances. But with people like James serving as community leaders and inspirations and keeping the pressure to stay focused on something far, far greater than their careers, it feels comforting to be optimistic about change for the first time in a long time.
The Lakers, Lakers fans, and the NBA should be immensely proud of having LeBron James represent them off the court.
You can watch LeBron’s entire media session here, via Spectrum SportsNet.