The Toronto Raptors Embody the Intersection of Sports and Racial Justice

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The Raptors are doing it right, both on and off the court.

The Raptors are doing it right, both on and off the court.
Photo: AP

A few months ago, NBA players didn’t know what to do. And after some back and forth, it was decided that the season would restart.

Some players opted out due to the coronavirus, or because they felt that this moment was too important in the fight for racial justice to be playing a child’s game. Others wanted to do both.

And before the games even began in Orlando, the league’s lone foreign team showed up with a message.

The Toronto Raptors’ busses were wrapped with a single phrase: Black Lives Matter.

It all makes sense when you think about it. The Raptors have been constructed by Masai Ujuri, a Nigerian who is the lone Black team president in the NBA. And of the 17 players on their roster in The Bubble, 15 of them are Black, including players from Canada, Saint Lucia, and a few from Africa.

Blackness, in all its forms, engulfs the Raptors.

“Basically we’re trying to do more than have statements,” Raptors Head Coach Nick Nurse told the Washington Post last month. “We’re really trying to come up with some plans of action and get out there and move, and I’ve been impressed as hell with these guys.”

Nurse, the league’s newly anointed Coach of the Year winner, has joined the rest of the coaches in the league by wearing “Racial Justice” pins during each game. He’s also the only head coach in the league that leads a team that’s been at the center of so much racism.

This past week, Ujiri became the latest example of how often the police in this county lie when he filed a countersuit against a Bay Area police officer. The original lawsuit was in response to an altercation that took place between the two men as Ujiri tried to make it to the floor to celebrate the defeat of the Golden State Warriors in last summer’s NBA Finals.

A video was released proving that Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy Alan Strickland lied, as he’s shown cursing at and shoving Ujiri twice as he attempted to show the officer his credential.

“It was extremely emotional to watch. One thing I say, it took away from the moment from Masai,” said Raptors guard Kyle Lowry when he was asked about the video.

“It took away from the moment of the team he put together to win a championship. But, that’s one of the reasons that we’re here. That’s why we have the [Black Lives Matter] shirts on. That’s why we’re kneeling. That’s why we’re using our voices and platforms to shed light on social injustices.”

“We’re happy that the video came out.”

The fact that Lowry was the one to comment on the incident can’t be ignored, especially given what he endured during last year’s Finals at Oracle Arena.

“Go f**k yourself,” is what Golden State Warriors minority owner Mark Stevens shouted at Lowry, multiple times, during Game 3, after he shoved Lowry when he jumped into the first row trying to save a loose ball.

“I don’t know him. I don’t care to know him,” said Lowry back then. “He showed his true colors at the time. And you show what you’re really about in that time and at that moment.”

Stevens was fined $500,000 and banned from games and team activities this season.

“To my personal and professional friend Masai Ujiri, I am heartbroken seeing the video of what should have been the happiest professional moment of your life. It’s hard to watch and to know all that swirled around you in the aftermath. While we had no role in hiring or managing security at our old arena, it happened at a Warriors game and for that I apologize. You rose above it which doesn’t surprise me or anyone who knows you. Now…go make some noise in the bubble!” tweeted Warriors team president and Chief Operating Officer Rick Welts on Friday.

This is the part where I point out that the rich white guy that runs the Warriors is proud of a Black man for “rising above” hatred and racism, while he’s allowing Stevens to return after the playoffs.

It doesn’t add up.

Or, does it?

The NBA’s ratings are down during the restart, and while there are a host of reasons why, it’s hard to ignore that the plastering of Black Lives Matter over the courts and on the backs of uniforms has caused many to turn away, even if this will only last for a season.

Only the future knows how this moment will be remembered. But what should never be forgotten is how the Blackest team in sports’ Blackest league was the one franchise that proved just how much Black lives don’t matter to so many in this country, and this world.