NBA coaches and players speak out about racial violence in U.S.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's protest of kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games, citing racial injustice and police brutality, has sparked a major reaction across the sports world. During the NBA's media days around the country on Monday, players and coaches spoke out about the social issues the U.S. is facing.

San Antonio Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich gave a pointed response when asked his thoughts about social unrest in the country.

"I think it's really dangerous to answer such important questions that have confounded so many people for hundreds of years, to ask me to give you my solutions, as if I had any, in 30 seconds," Popovich said. "So if you want to be specific about a question, I'll be more than happy to answer it because I think race is the elephant in the room in our country. The social situation that we've all experienced is absolutely disgusting in a lot of ways. What's really interesting is the people that jump right away to say, one is attacking the police, or the people that jump on the other side. It's a question where understanding and empathy has to trump, no pun intended, has to trump any quick reactions of an ideological or demagogical nature. It's a topic that can't just be swung at; people have to be very accurate and direct in what they say and do."

The New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony, who was among those to open this year's ESPYS with a plea to stop the violence, said the Knicks likely will do something collectively to address the social turmoil.

"I think we're in the same state," he said. "I think it's actually getting worse."

Similarly strong assessments have been expressed around the league for months, as the list of U.S. cities dealing with protests -- including Baltimore, Milwaukee, Chicago, New York, Ferguson, Missouri, and now Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Charlotte, North Carolina -- over gun violence and racial turmoil continues to grow.

Anthony, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Paul talked openly in July about how players and coaches can help create substantive change in cities across the country.

In a league in which about 75 percent of the players are black and some have enormous social-media followings, plenty of eyes will be on the NBA to see what it does after NFL players and some athletes from other sports have taken to kneeling during national anthems or raising a fist in an effort to spark discussion about race relations and other matters.

"We want to do it in the right way," Anthony said Monday. "Whatever we do, we want to do it as a collective group."

Anthony also said he wants to continue to bring awareness to these issues.

"I don't know what that is yet," he said. "We'll figure that out. But we want to do it all together. We want everybody to feel a part of it. We want everybody to have a right to make their own decisions about what they want to do. And we'll go from there.

"Everybody sees what's going on out there in the sports world and what everybody is talking about. So for me it's not about one single gesture. If the guys want to create a gesture or figure it out, we'll figure it out. We will address those issues. My goal is to keep the conversation moving, the conversation going. Talking to the right people, getting in front of the right people, making a stand for kinda what we believe in -- whether you're black, white, indifferent. I think it's for everybody to come on board and figure everything out."

The NBA has a rule requiring players and staff to stand during the national anthem, and 20 years ago Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended for a game for refusing to stand for the anthem. Abdul-Rauf, who did not respond to interview requests this week, said then that he felt the flag was a symbol of oppression.

Despite that rule, which the NBA did not mention in its memo to teams, Houston's James Harden said protests on NBA courts are possible.

The Rockets' All-Star called the decision by Kaepernick to kneel or sit during the anthem "a powerful statement.''

Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who has previously been outspoken on social issues, spoke Monday about any anthem protests and said he already has had a few conversations with the team.

"We've talked about it," he said. "It's a very relevant and important issue. Whatever we do, we'll do as a group ... I love the fact we're talking about things other than basketball. What we've discussed so far is just the issues, not the results. We're having discussions about all of the things everyone else is having discussions about ... and that's probably why protests work."

Golden State Warriors forwardDraymond Greenalso weighed in on the debate when asked by ESPN's Rachel Nichols at the Warriors' media day why he felt it was important to speak out about what is going on nationally.

"I think it's important to speak out because we're human,'' Green said. "There are a lot of changes that need to be made. It's not just the killing of black people -- that's obviously rough and crazy to me -- there are a lot of changes that need to be made in this country.''

The Warriors gathered for media day, and Kevin Durant pulled on his new white No. 35 jersey and posed for playful photos with two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry. But both Durant and Curry took time to express support for Kaepernick.

"Very proud of him,'' Durant said.

Curry, Durant, Green and Klay Thompson all plan to stand for the anthem beginning with Saturday's preseason opener against Toronto in Vancouver. They appreciate Kaepernick starting an important conversation and putting it on the national conscience.

"What Colin's doing it's amazing because he's backing up what he's representing,'' Thompson said. "He's not just going off and seeking the spotlight or looking for attention; he's really trying to make a change. It's very honorable.''

Curry also was asked about residents in his hometown of Charlotte expressing themselves and their disappointment and heartbreak in the death of a black man, Keith Lamont Scott, who was fatally shot by police, leading to several days of violent protest. Curry said he's all for the expression; he just hopes they can keep finding positive ways to influence change, without violence.

"You don't ever want it to be violent. The first day in Charlotte it turned that way,'' Curry said. "That's tough to see, especially growing up in that city. I know that's not what we're about, who we are as Charlotteans. You never want to be in that negative spotlight. As it went forward, everything was very constructive and productive.

"I think it made a huge turn for the greater good of taking a stand and doing what you can to make your voice be heard. I pray for Keith Lamont Scott's family, the officer's family. There are plenty of people that are going through some very tough situations but also just for the people of the city to understand that they can use their voice, and they should do that, but violence is never going to solve anything.''

ESPN's Ethan Sherwood Strauss, Ian Begley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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