On Thursday night, an NBA game between the Sacramento Kings and the Atlanta Hawks was delayed for 20 minutes due to protests outside of the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
Thousands of fans were unable to get into the arena, and were sent home by the team and police due to a large crowd protesting the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Stephon Clark by two police officers on Sunday. The officers shot Clark 20 times in his own family’s backyard after mistaking his cell phone for a gun.
It was a powerful demonstration that successfully called attention to the tragedy, and to the issue of police brutality as a whole. And it was made even more powerful because the entire Kings organization recognized that this is bigger than basketball, and used the night to focus on the meaning of the protest, instead of pushing back against it.
After the game — which only 2,000 fans managed to attend — Kings owner Vivek Ranadive joined the Kings players and coaching staff at mid-court to address the crowd. Ranadive did what most owners fail to do in tense situations — he made sure that the focus was on the tragedy.
“On Sunday, we had a horrific, horrific tragedy in our community, and on behalf of the players, the executives, the ownership, and the entire Kings family, I first of all want to express our deepest sympathies for the family. What happened was absolutely horrific, and we are so very sorry for your loss,” Ranadive began.
— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) March 23, 2018
Then, instead of expressing frustration over the delayed start or having to refund thousands of tickets, Ranadive offered his full support to protesters, and said the Kings organization wanted to help the city heal, and prevent tragedies like this from happening again.
“I also want to say that we at the Kings recognize your people’s ability to protest peacefully, and we respect that. We here at the Kings recognize that we have a big platform. It’s a privilege but it’s also a responsibility. It’s a responsibility that we take very seriously. And we stand before you, old, young, black, white, brown, and we are all united in our commitment. We recognize that it’s not just business as usual and we are going to work really hard to bring everyone together, to make the world a better place, starting with our own community. And we’re going to work really hard to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again. Thank you all for your patience and have a good night.”
Ranadive wasn’t the only one offering his support to the protesters; the players echoed his message.
“What Vivek said speaks volumes,” veteran Vince Carter told ESPN. “Regardless of your skin color, it’s just what’s right and what’s wrong and how we can support each other, even if it has nothing to do with you. Lend a hand and support. That’s the message that needs to shine through all of this.”
Kings guard Garrett Temple, who didn’t play in the game because of an injury, talked to reporters specifically about Clark’s murder, and advocated for change.
— Sean Cunningham (@SeanCunningham) March 23, 2018
“First of all, I want to say I 100 percent agree with the protests outside. If I didn’t have a job to do I’d probably be out there with them, peacefully protesting, because what’s going on has to stop. It has to stop,” Temple said. “[Sacramento police chief Daniel Hahn] is a friend of mine, I appreciate him releasing that video footage as soon as he did, but it has to stop. I want to say that first and foremost,”
Temple went on to say that he thought that playing the game was the right call for the team and the league, but praised the protests for doing an effective job at bringing light to the subject.
“Us not playing a basketball game isn’t going to change the fact that police unfortunately view black and brown men as a threat when they are certainly not,” Temple said.
The NBA has long been one of the most progressive leagues in U.S. professional sports, and its players have spoken out about police brutality before, whether it be LeBron James wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt during warmups to draw attention to the death of Eric Garner, or James joining Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade on stage at the ESPYs to remember the injustices against Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and other black people murdered by police officers.
But Thursday night felt different. When it comes down to it, most sports teams and their billionaire owners care about making money first and foremost. So the fact that the Kings worked with, not against, the protesters, and amplified their message instead of casting them as villains, is a significant sign of solidarity, one that’s reminiscent of how the Baltimore Orioles handled the protests following the death of Freddie Gray three years ago.
In a world where Colin Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job because he took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality, and where there are signs that other protesters in the NFL are being blackballed as well, it’s refreshing to see an owner truly offer support to those who are fighting for justice.