SALT LAKE CITY — “We need justice for Breonna Taylor.”
On Wednesday night, before talking about what it would be like to play basketball again, to compete, to do what he loves, All-Star Donovan Mitchell wanted to make sure he said her name loud and clear.
It’s not that basketball isn’t important or that Mitchell doesn’t believe in the Utah Jazz. It is, and he does. But, Mitchell and many NBA players believe that inaction is not an option.
What happens if they don’t continue to prop up issues of racial inequality and police brutality? The conversation could fade into the background.
What happens if they allow the issues to slip away? How then will they be able to affect change? Mitchell, his teammates, coaches and fellow NBA players are not going to let that happen, which is why they continue to talk about Breonna Taylor and call for justice.
On March 13, in Louisville, Kentucky, while Taylor and her boyfriend Kenneth Walker were in bed, police entered Taylor’s home with a no-knock warrant — which allows police to enter without warning and does not require police to identify themselves as law enforcement — and fired multiple rounds, striking Taylor, who was shot at least eight times.
Louisville police say they fired into the apartment because they were fired at first. Walker claims he acted in self defense, not knowing it was the police at the door. He can be heard on a 911 call saying, “I don’t know what’s happening. Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.”
The warrant was investigating two men on drug charges who did not live at the residence. It listed Taylor’s address as one police believed was used by one of the men to receive mail or stash money or drugs, according to the Louisville Courier Journal. No drugs were found at Taylor’s home.
Since Taylor’s death, one of the three officers involved has been fired and none face criminal charges. Kentucky attorney general Daniel Cameron is investigating the case.
“Daniel Cameron needs to do his job and arrest the killers of Breonna Taylor,” Mitchell said Wednesday, a message that has been echoed by millions, including many NBA players.
Taylor’s case hit particularly close to home for Mitchell because Louisville was his home for the two years he lived, studied and played basketball while attending the University of Louisville.
“It’s near and dear to my heart and painful to see,” Mitchell said. “The fact that an African American woman can’t be safe in her own home is wild, just the concept is wild. The fact that there hasn’t been anything done about it is crazier. ... What are we waiting for?”
Mitchell isn’t the only one calling for justice for Taylor or a number of unarmed Black women and men killed by police. The Utah Jazz guard noted leadership from many NBA players, including the Celtics Jaylen Brown and Milwaukee Bucks Malcolm Brogdon.
Many NBA players have chosen to forego answering reporters questions, instead repeating the need for justice. In the last week, the Philadelphia 76ers Tobias Harris, Denver’s Jerami Grant and the Lakers’ Dwight Howard used all or part of their media availability time to talk about Taylor and call on Cameron to arrest the officers involved in her death.
As NBA players do their part to call for justice and equality, coaches have tried to find ways to keep the conversation going as well. On Wednesday, Jazz coach Quin Snyder, who is part of a coaches committee created to address issues of racial inequality, opened his time with reporters with a history lesson from the Equal Justice Initiative’s “A History of Racial Injustice” calendar.
“July 22, 1899, moments before his trial is to begin, a white mob whips Frank Embree, a Black man, over 100 times and hangs him in front of more the 1,000 onlookers in Fayette, Missouri,” Snyder said. “We’re clearly keeping the dialogue alive by remembering things throughout our country’s history that hopefully we continue to change.”
A number of other NBA coaches have shared entries from the calendar and Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle begins every media session by reading from it. Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts and Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse wore Black Lives Matter shirts during their time speaking with reporters, Orlando coach Steve Clifford and Magic players viewed a documentary about the life of John Lewis before practice one day.
The players and coaches are hoping that their continued efforts to provide history and context to the racial problems that the country faces will impact real change.
“That’s really what coming down here is for,” Mitchell said. “Obviously, we want to win a championship and play games, but the ultimate goal is to continue to spread the message. ... Because this is just a sport. Obviously, it’s our job. But there’s real-life problems that we have going on that we need to fix.”