Lakers fall short against Spurs
LOS ANGELES - Gregg Popovich, basketball coach for the San Antonio Spurs and human being, and Frank Vogel, also a basketball coach and human being, locked arms under the scoreboard at center court inside a mostly empty Staples Center.
The men were joined by their players, their assistant coaches and the game’s officials, a demonstration the result of continued dissatisfaction with racism in America. Basketball would be played, but it would happen on their terms after their symbol of solidarity.
Before the Spurs beat the Lakers 118-109, Popovich denounced what happened Wednesday in Washington, D.C., laying blame at the feet of a president he’s never been shy of criticizing.
“Citizens can have opinions,” Popovich said before using almost 900 words to explain his.
Vogel was more economical - 150 words or so - with the same message - there is right and there is wrong, and they want to be on the side of right.
“It’s a problem. We’re working to change things,” Vogel said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. But what we saw in the last two days with the Jacob Blake ruling and the events at the capitol were just very disheartening and saddening and it was just the inequality and the double standard on full display. And it’s not right.”
LeBron James used four words - “Do you understand now” - that were printed on the shirt he wore into the building and written on the sneakers he played in.
The volume in the dissatisfaction from NBA players, coaches and referees has varied, especially since the strife and strain of 2020. They’ve respectfully and quietly knelt pregame during the national anthem, they’ve turned postgame news conferences into tearful testimonials about discrimination and jerseys and courts have been turned into platforms for social justice.
The images of largely white crowds of people storming the Capitol Building and, in some cases, posing for photos with law enforcement or receiving aide down the building’s stairs starkly contrasted images from a summer filled with unrest after the killings of unarmed Black people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
“It just laid bare the blatant, dangerous, debilitating racism that is our country’s sin and that has plagued us all of these years. There can’t be a better obvious example of a system that is not fair, as far as justice and equal rights are concerned and protection of citizens,” Popovich said. “It was just right in your face. And anybody that can ignore that is a shameful individual in my opinion. It’s hard to deny that.”
The ugliness of the week, though, didn’t seep onto the court. Once the game began, there were no on-court demonstrations. The two teams just started playing - well the Spurs did.
San Antonio scored the first nine points of the game and never trailed. The Spurs, who have been in Los Angeles since Monday, got 28 from LaMarcus Aldridge and 19 from DeMar DeRozan.
The Lakers fought back into the game behind 27 points and 12 assists from James and 23 points and 10 rebounds from Anthony Davis, eventually tying the game late in the third at 89.
But the Lakers’ defense was too slow too many times in the fourth while their offense went cold, with Dennis Schroder and Wesley Matthews combining to shoot 4-for-17 on the night while the team played without Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for the third-straight game because of an ankle injury.
The 48 minutes might’ve been disappointing, but the hope for people like Popovich, Vogel and James is that the country can improve, that their voices can make a difference.
Popovich has seen James do that already.
“I think he’s going to be an iconic figure. Nobody can be what Muhammad Ali was, as far as sport is concerned – but in that same genre. I’m so proud of this guy and so pleased for him that from the time he came in as a teenager to see his development now… as a human being, as a citizen, as someone who looks at the social issues at our time and is willing to speak out about them,” Popovich said. “He doesn’t do it with hate. He just tells the truth. And he lays it out there and enables everybody else to feel good about understanding that they do have a First Amendment right and they can do these things. it’s one of the greatest things `about our country.
“So, he’s a very special person in that regard.”