NBA players steer conversation to Breonna Taylor

  • Lakers and NBA reporter for ESPN.
  • Covered the Lakers and NBA for ESPNLosAngeles.com from 2009-14, the Cavaliers from 2014-18 for ESPN.com and the NBA for NBA.com from 2005-09.

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma spoke to reporters for six and half minutes Wednesday — some in person in Orlando, Florida; some logging in over Zoom — and was asked 10 questions.

Only one of the questions was geared toward social justice, and not long after the session finished, Kuzma asked media members in a tweet to put more priority on social justice when they speak to players as the NBA attempts to restart its season after a four-month hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kuzma’s teammate, Lakers guard Alex Caruso, took a similar tack Wednesday. After answering two questions about missing the wedding of his sister, Megan, over the weekend, Caruso told reporters where he wanted the subject matter to stay for the day.

“Outside of my sister’s wedding questions, anything today that you ask of basketball, I’m just going to respond with, ‘We need justice for Breonna Taylor,'” Caruso said.

“That’s going to be my response to the rest of the questions if they’re basketball-related and not pertaining to me and my sister’s wedding.”

Taylor has been a recurrent theme during interviews with players this week.

After Wednesday’s scrimmage, LA Clippers star Paul George said it felt great to be back on the court, then added, “I think most importantly, I take this time to pay my condolences to the family of the Taylors, Breonna Taylor, rest in peace. George Floyd, rest in peace. And so many others brutally murdered by the hands of police.

“That’s all I got, that’s my message for everyone. That will continue to be my answer.”

Toronto Raptors guard Terence Davis answered a question Wednesday by saying, “We’re united right now keeping the focus on Breonna Taylor’s killers. That’s what I want to keep the focus on. I can answer your questions postgame or any time after we playing. Right now, just keep the focus on what’s going on.”

On Tuesday, Milwaukee Bucks swingman Sterling Brown said, “Every day I wake up and I’m able to breathe, but that’s not the case for a lot of people, that’s not the case for Breonna Taylor, so I feel like we need to focus our attention on that more so than what’s going on here.”

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart answered every question Tuesday by saying, “Justice for Breonna Taylor.”

In the months that have passed since Taylor was killed, plenty of players have used social media to express their outrage. Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician, was shot eight times in her apartment by plainclothes officers serving a no-knock search warrant. No drugs were found.

Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were awoken by the Louisville officers that used a battering ram to enter her apartment around midnight on March 13. Walker fired his gun, he said, in self-defense believing that his home was being broken into. The police contend they only fired their weapons after Walker.

Detective Brett Hankison was fired. Jon Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, the other officers involved, were placed on administrative reassignment.

Kuzma tweeted about Taylor on Monday.

A few days before that, LeBron James shared a message about Taylor to his 68.6 million Instagram followers. Denver Nuggets forward Jerami Grant was the first player in the NBA bubble to draw attention for dedicating his entire interview session to Taylor a week ago.

“It’s great to be here with my teammates, great to be back playing basketball but for me personally, and I think a lot of players, it’s imperative that we focus on what is really important in the world,” Grant said on July 15. “One thing for me is Breonna Taylor’s killers are still roaming around free, so I want to focus on that with these interviews and things like that. I want to keep the focus there.”

Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris furthered Grant’s message by challenging the Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron by name on Monday when asked about Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook’s fashion label producing NBA-sanctioned clothing with social justice messaging that players can wear in Orlando.

“Nothing against the T-shirts, but we want to make sure Daniel Cameron will arrest the cops and officers involved with Breonna Taylor’s death,” Harris said. “And that’s all I’ve got to say. That is going to be my answer for every question. For Daniel Cameron to step up, and do what’s right, and that’s the only message I’ve got today.”

The issue was also taken up by Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum, who said he was on a phone call with Taylor’s mother to gather information about the case.

“I want to go on the record saying that Daniel Cameron is in a position to arrest the cops who are responsible for killing Breonna Taylor and still has not done that, so he’s the one who’s in the position to potentially do that,” McCollum said Tuesday. “So we want to continue to uplift people like Breonna Taylor, who are victims and haven’t received the proper justice that they are due.”

McCollum also wanted to shift the conversation during the media session toward Taylor, rather than on the Blazers playoff chances or rotation prospects.

“In terms of the other parts of your question, I think basketball is secondary,” he said. “You know, it’s our job obviously and gives us the possibility to fill those obligations, but it’s also our obligation to fulfill and protect our neighborhoods and protect the people that look like us and come from places like us and don’t exactly have the same voices that we do. So, I think that that’s something that’s been on all of our minds, we’ve been very proactive about it.”

The Professional Basketball Writers Association intends to cover the calls for social justice from NBA players, as well as the games being played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.

On July 7, during a meeting open to the entire PBWA membership, PBWA members decided to reach out proactively to the National Basketball Players Association to ask union officials if PBWA officers and other player members would be interested in holding additional video conference interviews with reporters with an expressed focus on issues of social justice — not basketball.

The PBWA and NPBA had a very promising initial discussion on July 9, league sources told ESPN, and PBWA officials are hopeful those sessions will occur. The notion of additional media availability to discuss societal issues was presented to the NBPA executive committee, sources told ESPN, and is currently under consideration.

When a follower suggested the idea of separate media availability times to tackle social justice issues to Kuzma on Wednesday, the third-year veteran countered, saying players receive the biggest audience when they are usually answering game-related questions after the final buzzer.

“The moment you wall want to hear is postgame, so that’s when there needs to be social injustice conversation,” Kuzma tweeted. “If it was a separate presser, no one would pay attention.”

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