“But Mom, it’s the playoffs!” My seven-year-old daughter, Julisabel, stood starting at the empty court on the TV waiting for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic to come out from the locker rooms. She’d wandered into the living room and found me watching the coverage of the Bucks’ boycott of game 5 that was supposed to take place yesterday in Orlando. When I explained to her that there wouldn’t be a game because the players had chosen instead to stand up for what they believed in and to use their platform and their voice to speak for those who had been hurt, she pointed out the importance of the game. It’s the playoffs.
She was quiet as I did my best to explain to her that sometimes standing up for what is right has a cost, and today that cost would be an important basketball game — a playoff game. We talked about the importance of doing what's right. We talked about using your voice and about how it’s important to stand up for people when you see them in trouble.
Then we talked about Jacob Blake. I told her his name, and I told her what happened to him. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t an easy conversation, and it’s one that I struggled to navigate. It’s also one that I considered not having. She’s only a kid, after all, and every part of me wants to protect her from the unjust in this world as long as possible. My daughter is half-white and half-Cuban. She is light skinned, with light brown hair, and because of that I don’t have to worry about her the way some parents are worrying about their children right now. But in the wake of yet another shooting of a Black man in the United States, there are mothers across the country who are having to have even more difficult conversations with their children about how to survive.
It’s not the first time that I’ve had emotional, complicated conversations with Julisabel since the NBA re-start. She’s at an age where she is observant. When the NBA made the decision to emblazon the courts with the words “Black Lives Matter” she noticed. She looked at me and said, “Mom, did this start because of the man that was killed by the police officer?” I cried that night before the game even started.
In Monday’s Game Four against the Los Angeles Lakers, Julisabel noticed the back of Portland shooting guard Anfernee Simons jersey — “I can’t breathe.” She asked simply why that was on his jersey. I took the opportunity once again to talk to her about what is happening in our country right now, and how important it is to continue having these conversations.
When talk of restarting the season began, lots of opinions were voiced and conversations were had, especially on social media. Many NBA fans were vocal about choosing not to watch the restart because they didn’t like the decision to put a message on the court or on the jersey’s of the players. Some questioned what good that simple act would do. At the same time, players going into the bubble voiced concerns about the NBA distracting from the fight that was happening around the United States for social justice issues. But in the weeks since the restart, I have had meaningful conversations with my seven-year-old daughter that I wouldn’t have had, had it not been for those messages printed on jerseys and courts. For the naysayers that wondered what difference it would make — that’s the difference.
I wonder sometimes what I can do. I struggle with how I can help, and how my voice can make a difference. How can I take action and make change? If I'm being honest, I don’t fully know the answers to those questions. But I know that it starts at home. It starts with my children. It starts with honest and thoughtful conversations. It starts with teaching them to stand up for what they believe in, to be a voice for the oppressed, and to act in love even when that means there is sacrifice.
I’m a fan of basketball, and of the Portland Trail Blazers. But I’m an even bigger fan of good people. What we are watching is good people taking a stand. I hate that my daughter is growing up in a world where these things are so prevalent. I wish she could be sheltered from the pain and the imperfect. But I’m grateful for the opportunity she has to witness good people doing the right thing, even when there’s a cost.
The boycott of playoff games from the players is something that might seem unprecedented, and while we haven’t seen something quite to this scale in NBA history, it’s not the first time players have taken a stand by boycotting a game. In 1961, Bill Russell and fellow Celtics sat out of an exhibition game in protest of racial injustice. Fifty years later, we are still fighting, but this time, the whole NBA is fighting together. This is a league full of players dedicated to using their voices and their public platforms to stand up for what they believe in. This is a dedication to justice and equality over comfort and love of the game. This is bigger than basketball.