Though the attention of the NBA and WNBA remain on their respective bubbles in Florida, players and coaches of both leagues were like most of America on Wednesday, fixated on the news and subsequent fallout from the announcement of charges related to the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky.
And once the news came out — that one of the three officers involved had been charged with three counts of wanton endangerment (the lowest-grade felony in Kentucky), the other two officers were not charged at all, and that none of the charges dealt specifically with the death of Taylor — people from around both leagues were quick to speak out, either verbally or through social media.
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, who earlier in the day texted his teammates that an announcement would be coming, did not speak about the grand jury’s decision but did make a statement on Twitter:
“I’ve been lost for words today! I’m devastated, hurt, sad, mad! We want Justice for Breonna yet justice was met for her neighbors apartment walls and not her beautiful life. Was I surprised at the verdict. Absolutely not but damnit I was & still am hurt and heavy hearted! my love to Breonna mother, family and friends! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!!”
Teammate Danny Green said, “Nobody was really happy about it. It was disappointing. In a sense, something was done, but it wasn’t enough. Most guys felt it was definitely not enough. … It’s a tough one. It’s a tough one.”
Taylor, 26, was shot to death by Louisville police in the early hours of March 13, as police were serving a warrant on Taylor’s apartment. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired at police as they entered the apartment, maintaining he did not know they were police and that he feared Taylor and he were being attacked. Police returned fire, with multiple shots hitting Taylor, killing her.
At a news conference shortly after the charges were announced Wednesday, Kentucky attorney general Daniel Cameron told reporters that the officers were “justified in their use of force” because Walker fired at them first.
Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone, whose team is playing the Lakers in the Western Conference finals and who often wears “Justice for Elijah McClain” on his shirts, said, “I know we’ve been using our platform down here to try to bring about education and a voice in a lot of players on our team, especially (regarding) justice for Breonna Taylor. We have not gotten that justice. That’s a shame. Hopefully that will change at some point.”
McClain, was a 23-year-old Black man who was stopped by police in Aurora, Colo., last August. Police ultimately tackled McClain to the ground and put him in a chokehold, then called paramedics who injected McClain with the powerful sedative ketamine. McClain had a heart attack on the way to the hospital and was declared brain dead three days later. McClain was not armed when police originally approached him.
One month ago Wednesday, Jacob Blake, another Black man, was shot multiple times in the back by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wis. Shortly after the shooting, the Milwaukee Bucks decided not play out of protest against the shooting. That began a string of teams and athletes in a variety of sports around the world refusing to play or practice as a sign of protest.
There has been no indication Wednesday that any games would be postponed in light of the Taylor news, and the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat did play Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals later Wednesday night near Orlando.
Before the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talked about the increased social activism athletes and sports leagues have undertaken in recent months.
“This has all been about justice,” Spoelstra said, “and it was not served.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, “To have 15 rounds of gunfire fired, five of which hit (Taylor), and there to be wanton endangerment — which I didn’t know existed before today — as the charge … it’s tough.
“At the end of the day, there’s been a call across the country, rightfully so, for more transparency, more accountability and just a better community relationship. And obviously, this feels like a setback to that.”
Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said he “wasn’t surprised” by the verdict.
“I think that this society, in the way it was built and the way … its intentions were never to protect and serve people of color, initially,” Brown said. “When they were gearing for what was about to happen, I knew the wrong decision was probably being made, but it doesn’t surprise me. It doesn’t surprise me at all. Until we dismantle, recreate or change the system that we have, we’re going to still have victims like Breonna Taylor and others that fall victim to oppression.”
In Bradenton, Fla., Taylor’s case has been at the forefront throughout the WNBA’s return to play in its bubble. Players have worn “Say Her Name” shirts — a rallying cry in the wake of Taylor’s death — and “Black Lives Matter” has donned courts in the bubble.
Though there were no games Wednesday, plenty of players expressed their feelings on social media, as well.
“We knew the news was not gonna be good when the Louisville police chief declared a state of emergency preemptively,” New York Liberty guard Layshia Clarendon tweeted. “My heart breaks for Tamika Palmer (Taylor’s mother) all over again. We will not be silent & accept state sanctioned murder and an extreme lack of accountability time and time again.”
Washington Mystics forward Tianna Hawkins tweeted, “He was charged with endangerment for shooting in ‘other’ apartments. STILL, there are no charges and no one being held accountable for Breonna Taylor’s MURDER.”
And Chicago Sky coach James Wade — one of two Black head coaches in the WNBA — tweeted: “Wow! This comes as no surprise but this is really bad. I don’t understand what we stand for and why life doesn’t mean anything.”