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NBA’s national-anthem demonstrations fall short of Colin Kaepernick’s meaningful protest

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NBA teams are locking arms during the national anthem, believing they’re continuing the legacy of Civil Rights marchers in the 1960s and Colin Kaepernick today.

They are not.

Civil Rights marchers and Kaepernick took courageous stands against racism. NBA teams have so far responded with a demonstration too inoffensive to work.

Kaepernick found a nearly perfect protest method. He remained peaceful, drew attention and then advanced the discussion of police violence against blacks. By sitting then kneeling during the national anthem, Kaepernick shocked the senses of the viewing public. Though many have overly focused on his method of protest, they still wanted to hear his justification for such a “radical” demonstration.

But take a step back and consider whether Kaepernick’s display is truly outrageous. What’s a bigger affront to American values, someone sitting for a song or the country not providing full rights and protection under the law to its black citizens? Though not everyone has thoughtfully considered Kaepernick’s point, many have been forced to confront that question.

At best, NBA teams have distracted from Kaepernick’s message. At worst, they’ve undermined it.

Not every NBA team is locking arms for the exact same reason, but the buzz word has been “unity.”

Unity, of course, would be fantastic. But it’s such a vague goal, it allows people to ignore real problems.

Many will say they’re for unity. Are they willing to speak out against police killing people who are disproportionately black? Are they willing to speak out against a criminal-justice system that is more likely to treat blacks more harshly at every step than their white counterparts in similar situations? Are they willing to speak out against housing discrimination that has left black people disproportionately in poorer, less safe neighborhoods with worse schools?

That’s the unity we need – everyone standing together against specific injustices.

What NBA players are doing is the equivalent of someone responding to #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter.

Well, yeah. Of course, all lives matter. But people who respond to #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter are nearly always just trying to change the subject. Rather than listen to genuine concerns from #BlackLivesMatter, #AllLivesMatter takes exception to the initial phrase. When it’s time to discuss whether a life mattered after the latest incident of police killing an unarmed black man, #AllLivesMatter is nowhere to be found.

There’s a real ignorance to the problems black people face in this country. Kaepernick is bringing attention to them. NBA teams are allowing people to ignore the specific issues and focus on a feel-good message of “unity” (and providing an excuse to hammer Kaepernick for not protesting more “respectably”).

Messages of unity too often lead to blaming those who recognize the divide, not those who perpetuate the divide.

I believe NBA players have their hearts in the right place, and many have shown they care through meaningful community work. That matters a great deal and shouldn’t be ignored. Neither should the fact that these are professional basketball players who have no obligation to take political stands.

But once they decided to demonstrate during the anthem, players are trying too hard to unite with their teammates who may hold differing views and conform to the NBA’s anthem rule that requires standing in a dignified posture. If you design a protest to appease your coworkers and bosses, you’re probably going about it the wrong way.

Not only is the message too milquetoast, so is the gesture fronting it.

If NBA teams locked arms during the anthem two months ago – before Kaepernick protested – nobody would have noticed or cared. It certainly would not have been perceived as a protest, let alone one on racial issues.

The Celtics best exemplify why NBA teams are falling flat in their anthem protests. They modeled their anthem posture after the 1960-61 team, which posed for a photo with black and white players crossing arms and holding hands:

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But 2016 is not 1960.

In 1960, Jim Crow still ruled the South. College teams across the region remained all-white. The Redskins, playing in our nation’s capital, hadn’t even integrated.

Black and white Celtics holding hands was itself an act of defiance. So was Civil Rights marchers locking arms in the South. Many Americans opposed integration and blacks’ right to peacefully assemble.

Black and whites teammates holding hands does not carry the same weight in 2016. All major sports leagues, pro and college, are integrated. When it comes to blacks and whites playing basketball together, there isn’t another side to demonstrate against.

While Kaepernick kneeling signals a clear protest, you could go to a Celtics game and have no idea the team is protesting – let alone ever bothering to find out what they’re protesting.

And what are they protesting? This team-posted video provides little real information:

There’s a lot more of that around the league, players speaking in overly vague terms about their anthem protests.

Raptors forward Jared Sullinger provided, by far, the strongest statement I could find from from an arm-locking player:

“We felt great (about the protest) because at the end of the day we know what is right from right and what is wrong from wrong,” Sullinger said. “And what is going on in the United States is wrong. I just hate how it is going. I just wish people would wake up and open their eyes and understand that minorities are getting picked on. It’s obvious.

“We are not progressing,” Sullinger said. “We are regressing. As time goes by all those long fights that all these people, who sacrificed their lives for, it’s almost like making a mockery of it. At the end of the day, we can make a change. I’m talking from my nephew who is 13 years old to my dad who is 67 years old. We all can make a change some way. Every gesture matters.”

Does every Raptor player and coach who locked arms agree that minorities are getting picked on, that racism is worsening? That’d be a heck of a lot of unity – a meaningful amount. If so, I’d like to hear every other team member speak to it.

Right now, NBA teams aren’t saying much.

Report: Paul George reached out to Damian Lillard to clear the air

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NBA players talk a lot of smack. The Clippers’ Patrick Beverley is a constant stream of it.

Both Beverley and Paul George got into it with Damian Lillard in the Clippers recent win over the Trail Blazers (when Lillard missed some clutch free throws). That spilled over to Instagram after the game when Lillard called out George for switching teams so often.

However, it got nasty when family and friends got involved. George’s girlfriend Daniela Rajic and Lillard’s sister, La’nae, went at each other on social media — La’nae Lillard called Rajic a stripper, Rajic called La’Nae a cow.

All that prompted George to call Lillard and clear the air, Chris Haynes of TNT said during the Blazers broadcast Tuesday.

Lillard and George have a history that goes back to last playoffs and what Lillard did to that Thunder. That beef is still around.

Players are generally pretty good about leaving the game on the court, and while it spills over to social media now and again it’s just an extension of the game. Family members tend to throw gas on those fires. That happened here.

Lillard used all that fuel — he has scored 112 points on 55% shooting (hitting 33-of-34 free throws) since that Clippers’ game. In doing so, he pushed Portland to two wins and the eighth seed in the West.

Three Things to Know: What you need to know about race for West play-in

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) What you need to know about race for West play-in

Four teams were alive in the chase for the final playoff spot in the West when they got out of bed Tuesday morning — Memphis, Portland, Phoenix, and San Antonio — and four were still alive when they went to bed Tuesday night.

But things looked very different by the end of the day. Portland — by virtue of a 61-point game by Damian Lillard, and helped by a Memphis loss — was the eighth seed and the team everyone else was chasing. The eighth seed has a huge advantage in the play-in series that is coming (it only has to win one of two games, the nine seed must sweep them both), and Portland had taken that away from Memphis. Still, nothing was secure yet.

Here are the play-in scenarios for each team (all four teams play Thursday).

Portland: Beat Brooklyn and the Trail Blazers are the eighth seed. It’s that simple. They control their own fate. If the Trail Blazers lose they only keep the eighth seed if everyone else loses. If Portland loses but two of the other three teams also lose, then the Blazers are the nine seed.

Memphis: Beat Milwaukee — who likely will be without Giannis Antetokounmpo after his headbutt of Moe Wagner — and Memphis can finish no worse than ninth. If the Grizzlies win and Trail Blazers lose, then Memphis regains the eighth seed. If the Grizzlies lose, they need both the Suns and Spurs to stay in the playoffs.

Phoenix: The Suns must beat the Mavericks to go 8-0 in the bubble, or they are out. And even going 8-0 may not be enough, Phoenix still needs Memphis and/or Portland to lose to move into either of the top two seeds (if both lose the Suns can be eight, just one and they finish ninth).

San Antonio: The Spurs must beat the Jazz to have any chance, lose and they are out. Even with a win San Antonio needs at least two of Portland/Memphis/Phoenix to lose to become the nine seed (if all three lose the Spurs can be the eighth seed, but that is a longshot).

2) Damian Lillard ties career-high 61 to will Portland to critical win

Paul George and Patrick Beverley talked smack from the bench, and it made Damian Lillard mad. You wouldn’t like Lillard when he’s mad…

If you’re an opponent. For the rest of us, it’s pure basketball joy. In the two games since the Clippers ran their mouths in a win, Lillard has scored 112 points on 55% shooting (hitting 33-of-34 free throws) and willing Portland to two wins and the eighth seed. On Tuesday, Lillard dropped 61 on Dallas.

You had better respect his f****** name and his game.

3) Devin Booker should be the bubble MVP, drops 35 to keep bubble Suns perfect

The NBA is giving out awards for the bubble — an NBA Player of the Seeding Games and NBA All-Seeding Games Team — and Devin Booker is going to pick up some hardware. Or should, at least.

The Suns remained perfect at 7-0 in the bubble on Tuesday beating what’s left of Philadelphia 130-117 behind 35 from Booker.

Booker has craved respect he feels he hasn’t gotten up to this point, mostly because the Suns’ teams he has been on are terrible (and the defensive issues of those teams fall partly on him, although there is much more at play as well). In the bubble, he has earned that respect.

Respect alone won’t get the Suns into the play-in series, another win won’t even do that (as noted above, the Suns still need help even with a win). But the respect is there, and that is something.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.