For 48 hours, the future of the NBA Bubble in Orlando, Florida teetered on the brink of dissolution. Raw emotions filled a tumultuous two days after the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, Wisconsin police officers. More than once, it looked like play wouldn’t resume as players called for action to combat systemic racial oppression. On Friday, after a slew of meetings, players, coaches, league and board of governors reached an agreement to resume play, take action to promote civic engagement and fight systemic inequity.
Members of the Dallas Mavericks were heavily involved throughout the meetings, especially Dwight Powell and Head Coach Rick Carlisle. Powell is the team’s representative to the National Basketball Players association and also sits on its board. Carlisle is president of the National Basketball Coaches Association. Their involvement and the steps the organization is now taking are a continuation of a message of racial justice the team began advocating before it entered the bubble.
“The meetings that we’ve had were very productive. All the players were very motivated. The conversations with the league and the ownership group were very motivated to find ways to actively bring change right now and for the future, going forward,” Powell said. “Seeking out help to help us bring change was an important step as well and finding ways to do the justice coalition that we’re going to go forward with, to do this in the right way so that we can actually affect change systemically.”
From those meetings came an establishment of a social justice coalition made up of players, coaches and governors. Further, the NBA is helping facilitate the creation of voting locations at NBA arenas in cities where the team owns and controls the property. Advertisements promoting greater civic engagement will also air during playoff games.
As part of the platform the league is rolling out, the Mavericks are also pledging to take further steps. The organization announced 7 Days of ACTION!. It’s the latest effort to addresses social and racial inequities and stems from the Mavs Take ACTION! initiative, which arose after the death of George Floyd, subsequent protests and ongoing conversations within the organization.
The result is the Mavericks turning the American Airlines Center, the city-owned arena where the team plays, into the largest polling location in Dallas County for the November elections; monthly listening sessions; internal organizational training; a donation of $200,000 and partnership with Mothers Against Police Brutality; promoting civic engagement and using music to support black owned businesses and entrepreneurship through the House of Blues Forward Foundation.
They are also pledging $1,000,000 in personal protective equipment (PPE) to the Dallas Independent School District, which will cover every student, teacher and staffer.
Given the recent events in Kenosha, but also historically, the partnership with Mothers Against Police Brutality is apt. Carlisle and the organization, working with Collette Flanagan, the founder of MAPB, have met with Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, City Manager T.C. Broadnax and Police Chief Renee Hall, who is under heavy scrutiny due to her handling of several violent incidents by police officers during ongoing protests, to discuss their desire to see immediate change implemented.
“There are eight really important policies with regard to policing called 8 Can’t Wait,” Carlisle said. “The metrics say that when all eight things are in place, deaths via police brutality decrease exponentially. As we got into this, Dallas only had four of the eight things in place. After our conversations, emails and work with Collette, three of those four things are now in place. So, Dallas now has seven out of eight positive policies relative to police brutality in a good place. The last thing that needs to be addressed is a ban on shooting at moving vehicles. That would be the eighth thing and that’s the next thing that we’re going for.”
The Mavericks have a longstanding association and good rapport with the Dallas Police Department. The organization and owner Mark Cuban have donated more than $1,000,000 to the department over the last five years.
Yet, it was another incident of police brutality sparked the NBA’s latest chapter of social activism. It all began when the Milwaukee Bucks decided to boycott Game 5 of their playoff series against the Orlando Magic after the shooting of Blake. Their action sparked a wildcat strike. Every team remaining in the bubble followed suit, refusing to play, bringing the playoffs and the NBA to a standstill.
The reaction and response didn’t stay localized to the NBA. The WNBA—always a bellwether on social justice issues—MLB and athletes across sports joined the NBA with similar protests.
“Anytime you have some kind of systemic problem,” Powell said, “it’s going to take a widespread response from multiple leagues, small businesses and people around the country—from athletes to telecasters—taking a moment to really think about what’s important and how they can help and how we can draw attention to this issue. We see over and over again Black and brown people losing their lives to police brutality and falling victim to this system that’s been in place for quite some time.”
In a season full of uncertainties that saw a significant spat with China over its Hong Kong policy, a shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a restart inside Disney World, at no time did the future look more tenuous than the past week. Players couldn’t stand the violence they saw inflicted on yet another community. It was a breaking point.
Games are resuming. That’s a simple way to look at it. The reality is much more. Refusing to play created a unified front that focused and elevated the players’ message. What they are walking away with is progress, albeit incremental. There is still a long way to go to reconcile the emotional pain and enact legislation that can lead to a better future. Regardless, their actions helped drive a necessary national conversation.
“It was crucial that we came out with tangible, actionable items to move forward, but we must return to play to continue to hammer home those messages on a daily, nightly basis with all the players that we have and all the voices that we have,” Powell said. “But we did need to take a moment and remind the people that they should also stop and think and realize what’s going on in this country and find ways to help bring change because without everyone on board, we’re going to see this cycle continue to repeat itself.”