By Kristian Winfield/ New York Daily News
Garrett Temple remembers the day Trayvon Martin’s killer was set free.
He was in Los Angeles, when George Zimmerman — a neighbourhood watch co-ordinator in Sanford, Florida, who claimed self-defense after shooting and killing the unarmed, 17-year-old Martin — was acquitted on murder charges.
That day, Temple says, wildly differs from the climate in America in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.
“It was really my first time just hanging out in LA, and it made me angry that it was so foreign to so many people, or people just didn’t even pay attention to it,” Temple said on a conference call with reporters on Sunday. “Whereas fast forward I don’t know how many years, eight or nine years later, it seems like people are finally starting to care about unarmed black men being brutalised by the police and just black Americans in general being marginalised.”
Protests broke out across the country after Floyd was killed in Minneapolis by a police officer who kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. NBA players find themselves at the intersection of entertainment and social justice. As the league gears for its resumption from the coronavirus hiatus in Orlando, players are figuring out how best to use their platform to bring about change.
Temple is in a unique position. He serves as one of seven vice presidents of the NBA player’s union. He has been on conference call after conference call, listening to his peers’ concerns, not just with returning to play amid the coronavirus pandemic that has seen cases spike across the country in recent weeks, but also during one of the strongest Black Lives Matter movements the country has seen since the movement’s inception.
Temple is one of two NBPA vice presidents on the Nets’ roster, the other being Kyrie Irving, the star guard who suggested on a conference call with about 80 others that players forego the Orlando bubble and instead work on social issues like police brutality, criminal justice reform and systemic racism. WNBA star Maya Moore notably saw the fruits of her sacrifice come to life, giving up her career to help free Jonathan Irons, who served 22 years of a 50-year sentence before a judge, thanks to Moore, overturned the ruling and set him free on July 1.
“At the end of the day, everybody has their own thoughts on how to effect change. I think the main underlying point is that everybody wants the same thing,” Temple said. “Kyrie, myself, most of the black men in the league that are passionate about this – or if they weren’t passionate, most of them are passionate about it now – we want the same thing. There are a lot of different ways to skin a cat.”
Temple has been a proponent of the Orlando restart. He says he, like most players in the NBA, gave some thought to the idea of sitting out, but ultimately decided to make the trip with his team. Temple is among a number of socially aware players who want to utilise their platform in the Orlando bubble to take advantage of the undivided attention they will have. “What is the way we can most utilise this extra push, these extra ears, and extra eyes that are on this situation? … The world was at a standstill, and (police killing an unarmed Black man) happened again, and because of the situation in terms of the pandemic, people are paying…people have to watch. It’s the only thing that was going on,” he said. “And my thing is, I think we utilise the situation — being in the bubble – as a way to continue to push it, because there are going to be so many eyes watching these basketball games again because of the pandemic
“So I think the way that we can utilise those two, three months in Orlando to continue to push the narrative, to continue to have it on people’s minds, fresh on people’s minds, is something we can do in terms of keeping it on people’s minds. Then obviously we can utilise the push to get things done from a league basis that we may want to have done in terms of donations and putting funds into certain things.”
The Nets have continued to keep the narrative alive among themselves. Brooklyn welcomed CNN political analyst Van Jones to host a fireside chat with players, coaches and executives. Temple said he’s followed Jones and his work for a long time and still keeps in touch with him after the chat.
Jones, too, was a proponent of players returning to play in Orlando.
“(Jones was) making sure that we still have hope in this society. Making sure that we know how much pull we have as athletes if we use our platform the right way, speaking to the right people,” Temple said. “One thing he was saying was, ‘We want y’all to keep playing. Y’all are some of the few Black people in America that have a little bit of money, so we don’t want y’all to stop that.’
“But I think his biggest thing to us was to continue to have home as Black men, Black women in America, that he does see a change in how things are going. That was encouraging and I thank him for that.”
The only way Temple is going to opt-out of the Orlando bubble is for the birth of his first child, which he is expecting in mid-September. The season begins on July 31, but the Nets are a longshot for a deep playoff run, and that’s only if they hold onto their standing as a playoff team after eight regular season games.
Temple understands the moment, and he understands the steam and traction several social justice movements had in the weeks ensuing Floyd’s death have noticeably tapered off. He feels the restart is an opportunity to bring this conversation back to the forefront.
“We actually can get more done by playing than by not playing. If we don’t go to Orlando and play, as I said, the narrative has died down,” he said. “Everyone who is watching CNN or Fox News or CNBC, ABC News, it’s more about the Covid pandemic right now, whereas, two weeks ago, it wasn’t even though (the coronavirus) still was going on.
“The media is what it is. By us playing, I think we can keep more eyes on it and also try to save this league that provides a lot of people with jobs that can help them.”
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