All Ball sports: A line is drawn, from Kaepernick to Chauvin

by Paul Teetor

Colin Kaepernick and Derek Chauvin will go down in the history books together, but for very different reasons.

One took a knee during the national anthem in principled protest.

The other gave a knee during an arrest made with mindless malice.

One is a woke football player who led his team to the Super Bowl, then sacrificed his career to draw attention to the issue of systemic police abuse of black people.

The other is a brain-dead, incarcerated ex-cop who didn’t have the God-given common sense – or even a sense of self-preservation – to realize he was suffocating George Floyd when Floyd told him 27 times that he couldn’t breathe and then called for his mama with his last breath.

Nor did Chauvin realize it when the murder was complete after six minutes.  Floyd lay silent and lifeless with Chauvin’s knee on his neck for another 3 minutes and 29 seconds.

Unknowingly and unintentionally, in the process of killing Floyd Officer Chauvin completed what Kaepernick started just five years ago: he made the once-fringe issue of police abuse of black people into a national, mainstream issue.

Former Mira Costa High students Nia Marshall, Malachi McMahon, Dalia Feliciano, and Jemal Williams lead a Black Lives Matter protest against police brutality at the Manhattan Beach pier on June 2, a week after George Floyd was killed. Photo by JP Cordero

Now, after repeated showings of the video footage of a callous Chauvin defiantly ignoring the warnings of distraught bystanders that he was killing Floyd, not even Donald Trump and his sycophants can pretend there is not a police brutality problem that needs to be fixed – for the benefit of everyone, not just black people.

You wouldn’t know it from watching mainstream TV news, but there are plenty of white people – indeed, people of all skin colors – needlessly gunned down by out-of-control police who act like they’re trained to escalate tense situations instead of defusing them.  That’s why Floyd’s arrest and subsequent murder was the inciting event behind the George Floyd Police Reform bill sponsored by Congressional Democrats and backed by President Joe Biden. 

When the history of the modern social justice movement is written in the not-too-distant future, historians may well draw a direct line from Kaepernick’s “take a knee” stand against police abuse five years ago to the almost-universally acclaimed guilty on all counts verdict this week against Chauvin after his murder-by-knee-on-neck of Floyd.

Cultural analysts can tackle the linkage question and debate whether Chauvin’s conviction is just another moment in America’s long and troubled racial history – slavery, Selma, four little girls, Rodney King — or an inflection point for a 21st century social justice movement that is gaining steam by the day. As always with the incremental course of history, time will decide that debate. 

But in a sports world with a growing focus on social justice, there was no debating the cause-and-effect link between Kaepernick’s activism and Chauvin’s multiple convictions this week.

While some Fox News hosts continued to debate the reasons for the verdict – aging frat boy Tucker Carlson actually argued that the jury returned a guilty verdict only because they were frightened by left-wing threats of riots – sports figures spoke with what seemed like one voice.

Since we live in Los Angeles, let’s start with Lakers star LeBron James, who tweeted one very appropriate word: “ACCOUNTABILITY.”

Former Lakers great Magic Johnson was a little more verbose: “Thank God…. guilty! Justice has been served.”

Others were more ambivalent, less triumphant. Naomi Osaka, the best female tennis player in the world, tweeted out a thoughtful response that mirrored the feelings of millions of her fans: “I was going to make a celebratory tweet but then I was hit with sadness because we are celebrating something that is clear as day. The fact that so many injustices occurred to make us hold our breath toward this outcome is really telling.”

Others, like Chargers wide receiver Joe Reed, were still angry even after the verdict was announced: “Throw the key away.”

A day later, something happened that would have been inconceivable when Kaepernick started his movement back in 2016. 

Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis – son of the legendary Al Davis, who politically was slightly to the right of Genghis Kahn and Attila the Hun – used the team’s official website to tweet out: “I can breathe 4-20-21.”

Some Raiders fans objected, saying the team’s owner had no business aligning himself and his team with Floyd and his family. But Davis stood firm and refused to delete the tweet. Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, publicly thanked him for his support. “For the first time in almost a year, our family has taken a breath. And I know that goes for so many across the nation and globe, as well. Let’s take this breath together in honor of my big brother, who couldn’t. Let’s do it for George.”

Just when America seemed to be reaching a broad consensus that this was indeed a case of police abuse of black men, exactly the type of recurring problem that Kaepernick had pointed out over and over until it cost him his career, all hell broke loose once again over the issues of cops and violence and race.

This time it was the outcry over a police officer shooting and killing a black 16-year-old knife-wielding girl in Columbus, Ohio, named Ma’Khia Bryant.

Right smack dab in the middle of all the new controversy were two long-time sparring partners: Lebron James, normally so sure-footed with his public comments, and Trump, still seething from the time LeBron called him “a bum” three years ago.

This time LeBron tweeted out a picture of the Columbus cop, Nicholas Reardon, with the caption “YOU’RE NEXT!” along with the hashtag #Accountability!

Naturally, Trump immediately claimed LeBron was threatening violence against the officer. Of course he was doing no such thing, merely pointing out that Reardon could face the same legal accountability that Chauvin had.

But since Trump had spent years successfully confusing his fan base with tweets that Kaepernick’s take-a- knee movement was all about dis-respecting the flag while ignoring his real message that it was done to protest police brutality, he figured he would try to run another mis-direction play. 

The world’s most self-involved but least self-aware man couldn’t resist the chance to take a shot at his long-time nemesis: “LeBron James should focus on basketball rather than presiding over the destruction of the NBA,” Trump, who is banned from Twitter for making false statements and inciting violence, attacked LeBron in a prepared statement sent out to the media. “His racist rants are divisive, nasty, insulting and demeaning. He may be a great basketball player, but he is doing nothing to bring our country together.”

Realizing he had been a bit premature with his warning to the cop, LeBron deleted the tweet because, he said, “it was being used to create more hate.”

He then issued a new tweet: “Anger does none of us any good and that includes myself! Gathering all the facts and educating does though! My sympathy for her family and may justice prevail!”

Trump has tweeted more than 60,000 times since he started on Twitter in 2009. Most of his tweets have been “divisive, nasty, insulting and demeaning” to someone and sometimes to everyone. And they did nothing to bring the country together.

It’s often said that you can judge a man by his friends. But the reverse can be just as true: you can judge a man by his enemies.

By that standard, LeBron is a superstar off the court as well as on it.

And Kaepernick is too.

            

Lakers facing a Brutal Reality

The Lakers with Anthony Davis back but still without LeBron James are like the Pelicans when AD was their star from 2012 to 2019: a middle of the pack team with playoff possibilities but no chance of being a championship contender.

This reality became painfully obvious once again after AD’s first two games back this week with the Lakers after missing 29 straight games. He scored only 4 points on 2 for 10 shooting in his much-anticipated return, a bad loss to the Dallas Mavericks and their mega-star Luka Doncic. He played slightly better in his second game, a 108-93 Saturday night loss to the very same Mavericks. Still, he hit only 5 of his 19 shots – making him an ugly 7-for-29 in the two games — and was clearly several weeks away from playing his best basketball.

And with only 3 weeks to go until the playoffs start on May 22, we still don’t know exactly when – or even if – LeBron will actually put on the purple and gold uniform again. The team is now 7-11 without him. 

That means that without those early season wins piled up when both their stars were active and playing well, the Lakers would already be out of playoff contention. As it is they have fallen to fifth place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, and are actually in danger of falling to 7th place or even lower if they don’t start winning soon.

That would put them in the precarious position of being part of the play-in system designed for the 7th to 10th place teams to fight it out for the last two playoff spots. A single loss in the play-in tournament could end their season right there without even getting a chance at the real playoffs. Without LeBron, that fate is a distinct possibility.

Bottom line: the Lakers are now a long-shot to make it to the Finals, much less defend their NBA title. Right now, Brooklyn – coached by Manhattan Beach’s own Steve Nash – has to be the heavy favorite to win the whole thing. 

If the Lakers had a firm idea when LeBron will be back from the high-ankle sprain he suffered six weeks ago, they would say so. That means his rehab is not far enough along to zero in on a date.

His absence was conspicuous in the Saturday night loss. The raw truth in the NBA is that winning teams all have one common denominator: a dominant star who can get the ball in crunch-time and create a shot for himself or, if he is double-teamed, for an open teammate. Guys like Doncic for the Mavs, Kawhi Leonard for the Clippers, Nikola Jokic for the Nuggets, Donovan Mitchell for the Jazz, Kevin Durant or James Harden or Kyrie Irving for the Nets, and of course LeBron for the Lakers.  

In that second loss to the Mavericks, the Lakers opened up a 15 point first-half lead that gradually evaporated. By late in the game, the teams were tied several times and the game came down to each team’s play-maker having to make plays.

For the Mavs, the 6-foot-7, strong-as-an-ox Doncic was magnificent, throwing in a buzzer-beating 3-pointer and finding teammates for open lay-ups several times. For the Lakers, all they had was pint-sized point guard Dennis Schroeder trying to use his jet-fighter quickness to get to the hoop and find an open shot or an open guy. He got his shot swatted several times, and in just the last 3 minutes it went from a close game to a 15-point Lakers loss. 

AD, for all his multiple talents as a top-10 NBA player – great rebounder, great defender, great post-up player, good 3-point shooter – is not a shot creator. His most natural role is as LeBron’s wingman, the guy who gets the set-up pass when LeBron is swarmed by defenders and has the skill-set to finish the play.

The brutal reality: Even with AD back, the Lakers are not serious contenders.

Only LeBron can make that happen.

And time is getting short.

Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com. Follow: @paulteetor

 

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Written by: Paul Teetor

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