SALT LAKE CITY — In late May, Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson — joined by family, friends and former teammates — walked the streets of Los Angeles.
It was one of hundreds upon hundreds of protests that have occurred since the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody. Participants continue to advocate for racial inequality and justice.
“It was a big moment in time, and now we all are pushing for change,” Clarkson said.
The moment isn’t over; that push is still happening. That’s partially why some players — including Clarkson — had some hesitation about whether or not to return to play. They didn’t want NBA games and the discussion surrounding them to serve as a distraction. They didn't want to take the focus off a movement that, to them, is long overdue.
“I know a lot of players have agendas and things that they want to put out, using the platform in Orlando,” Clarkson said. “And it’s a plan that has to be executed well, so that everybody can get the message. Everybody can still be affecting and still changing, making this happen.”
Social messages will be heavily prevalent in the Orlando bubble when the NBA restarts on July 30. The league will paint “Black Lives Matter” on the courts and players will be allowed to replace the names on the back of their jerseys with a list of approved phrases. Those messages include “Say their names,” “I can’t breathe,” “Anti-racist” and “Ally,” among many others.
“I think it's very important to keep this in our minds,” Jazz point guard Mike Conley said. “I think it's a perfect opportunity for us to continue to put the pedal to the metal on this and not ease up, not to take our minds off of it at all.”
For the people who think politics shouldn’t have a place in sports and are unhappy the league is promoting the social movement, Clarkson has a message.
“I mean, they probably should probably shut up and kind of look at yourself in the mirror,” he said. “If everybody's saying something, something's got to change. This is a problem that everybody's noticing.”
The Jazz organization has been vocal about the social issues that have caused protests, riots and unrest throughout the country, using social media posts and statements to support equality and Black Lives Matter.
Those posts have started conversations, but some of the comments have been disheartening for Utah players (and fans too) to read and to hear.
“Hopefully this conversation opens a lot of eyes especially here in Utah, because there's a certain stigma — there's no secret about that — about Utah,” Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell said. “And obviously the comments didn't help. But for us, as athletes, we want it to be known that we won't stand for any of the racism.”
That's the case in Utah; and that'll be the case in Orlando, too. Seeing those types of remarks has just provided more motivation to continue pushing for awareness and change. The NBA’s restart offers another chance to educate the public.
“Every time we had talks with each other, we think of ways to spread love to the community or spread awareness,” Jazz swingman Royce O’Neale said. “Sometimes getting profiled as an athlete or basketball player, stereotyped, you know, things like that, try to bring awareness to other people that we're just regular people. We still have feelings and stuff like that. So, I think just using a platform and all the social issues going on, trying to expand those out to other people.”
To them, the big moment in time isn't over yet.