The Orlando Magic’s season is over, but their fight to be part of positive change in their community will continue even after the season ends.
The first part of diagnosing or solving a problem is education and discovery. To know an issue and learn how to solve it is to become aware of the problem itself. To dive deep into its history and to ask questions of those who know more, even if the answers are not yet satisfactory.
NBA players have been put — and to some extent put themselves — in a position to lead on issues of racial justice in this country. As some of the most visible Black men — the WNBA has long been leading and engaging on these issues as some of the most visible Black women — in society, they are shedding a light on experiences that Black men and women experience every day.
By their raising awareness, they are hoping to encourage and push others to educate themselves and ask questions. They are leaders in a protest movement and an awareness movement. But they would even recognize that protests are a first step.
The next step will occur not inside the NBA campus at Disney, but in the home markets when players get home. What is starting on the NBA’s campus will continue when players get home.
"“We want to move forward — and not to move forward from what happened — but we want to move forward in a way we can make the world better,” Michael Carter-Williams said Friday about discussions the team had with Orange County Sheriff John Mina, specifically referring to how they move forward as protests continue over the shooting of Salaythis Melvin. “We’re in a sticky situation. We can go back and forth or we can say what we can to make things better. What can we do to eliminate what’s going on? How can we eliminate the confusion of a Black kid getting shot or a reason that he shouldn’t have got shot for or killed for or mistreated? How can we eliminate that? It’s not an easy answer.”"
NBA players want to lead this change or be conduits to have further discussions and raise further awareness. They have used their status to get access to power to ask these direct questions. They may not get all the answers they want, but they have a seat at the table, at least for the moment.
What the players wanted to figure out during their three-day sit-in was how to turn that awareness into action. Even in baby steps. There will be a lot more work to do when everyone gets home from the campus.
A step back to move forward
Taking a step back from the games was as much a moment for the league to vent some pent-up frustration that has been bubbling over with everyone inside the campus.
But these players too needed the opportunity to step back, discuss and educate themselves. As many steps as they have taken to advance social justice causes, not everyone is as educated on the issue as everyone else.
It was telling when a report came out that only 20-percent of the players in attendance at these meetings the last few days were registered to vote.
NBPA president Chris Paul made it a point to make sure every player knew how and started the process of registering to vote for the Nov. 3 election. Especially since they are making voting and encouraging others a vote a key facet of their social justice solution.
The league and players association came up with three concrete actions they plan to take to advance social justice causes and slowly get the ball rolling. Team governors will open arenas as voting centers where they can — Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford said the team was already exploring ways it could make its facility open to help during the general election (especially now with the city-owned Amway Center occupied by WWE’s residence).
"“This has been something has been in the works for a while,” coach Steve Clifford said after practice Friday. “I think in most of the 30 NBA cities, everybody has been trying to do the same thing. It gives more people the opportunity to vote. And that’s what it’s for. A lot of people don’t have the means or a way to get to polling stations. Or it’s difficult for them to register and those are all things that we can help with.”"
The league will also form a social justice coalition comprised of players (including Michael Carter-Williams), coaches and team governors to find ways to further advance causes of civic engagement and social justice. And advertisements the rest of the playoffs will include messages urging civil engagement.
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These are small steps in trying to help find a solution to a problem that has haunted the United States since its founding. To be sure too, these are not the final steps.
The process of effecting actual change is one that is ongoing. It will be one of education and questions. A continual dialogue that may yet still become emotional with a demand for answers to injustice.
The Orlando Magic engaged with this topic head-on, holding a teleconference Friday with Orange County Sheriff John Mina. In that call, players asked Sheriff Mina directly about an incident three weeks ago where Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies shot and killed Salaythis Melvin, prompting protests near the Florida Mall, where he was killed.
Michael Carter-Williams said the conversation was good and he hopes there will be more discussions directly with Sheriff Mina on what had happened. But not every answer was satisfactory. Just like the community, there are more questions than answers.
"“It’s tough for me to speak on if I’m being honest,” Carter-Williams said after the Magic’s practice Friday. “I’m unhappy with how things are going and things are handled. I know there are a lot of people who are unhappy. A lot of the questions that I wanted to ask, I felt that we weren’t necessarily given the truth. We want to see justice, we want to see truth. Not saying the man is a liar. His answers and how we interpreted them hit home for us.”"
There is certainly still a lot of education that has to come about what is going on and how to handle them. Carter-Williams, who participated in protests over the death of George Floyd in Orlando and participated in a roundtable with Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings in the summer on issues of racial justice, is trying to look for ways to move forward.
The call seemed to part with players maybe dissatisfied with every answer but certain Mina is open to further discussion. It appears that further discussion with the Sheriff’s office will continue.
Carter-Williams’ answers themselves may not be satisfactory to some who are more deeply entrenched in the fight. But his willingness to engage and struggle with the issues is a process everyone should go through still.
As it is with everyone, this is the start or continuation of a journey to get where we need to be as a nation and as individuals. The Magic are not going to let the discussion stop here.
The next step
What comes of this is to be determined for sure. The Orlando Magic are heading home from the NBA campus. They will be back in their community and away from the isolation of the campus.
But it does not seem like the team wants to be done dealing with and leading on these issues even when the season is over.
This is just the start. Things have already begun to change, even if in small increments.
"“I think the communication with us and the owners, they want to be more involved, they want to help fight social injustice,” Nikola Vucevic said after practice Friday. “Also I think the cause itself brought attention around the world and raised awareness even more about the message we’re trying to send. We understand it’s not going to happen overnight. We know it is going to be a long process and we have to keep fighting.”"
Clifford said the team will continue to work to educate themselves on these issues — work that Clifford has done with several organizations including with Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative and Desmond Meade of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. He said the team continues to plan conversations with community activists and government officials after the season ends.
This is going to be a part of the team’s program moving forward.
There is a lot of frustration and anger still over the repeated shootings of Black men and women. The shooting of Jacob Blake was dispiriting for the players. They knew they needed to continue doing more but they felt their return and the awareness they were bringing were making a dent.
"“These are difficult difficult issues,” coach Steve Clifford said after practice Friday. “You can tell there are a ton of guys putting a ton of thought into it. But also there is a lot of frustration on everyone’s part.“Let’s face it, racism, bigotry, systemic racism, police accountability are major issues that we have all been working on together for a few weeks here. Things happen like with Jacob Blake, you feel like you are not making any progress. Obviously this is a fight that is going to take a long time. We’re in it for the long haul. But it is frustrating obviously at times when everyone is doing a lot to promote positive change and then the same things keep happening."
Clearly merely slogans and awareness are not enough. Their demand for more concrete action was heard and listened to.
But it will take more than that. And everyone recognizes it.
As NBA teams start to head home, the hope is they will continue to lead the fight and raise awareness and push forward. The conversations they have had inside the campus with each other will need to turn into actions in their communities.
This is something everyone has to participate in.
"“It’s time,” Carter-Williams said after practice Friday. “This is not time to hold your tongue. We need to speak up for what is right. I think everybody in the league and other leagues are on the same page as well.”"
Basketball frankly seemed secondary once this news hit. The players certainly seemed to have their attention elsewhere.
Indeed, the games have served as something of a distraction, even as players and coaches tried to keep social justice messaging front and center. Some of these steps will be enough to get them back into the joy of playing again.
But the journey and the battle is not over. Not yet. There is still much work to do at home.