What’s Been On My Mind

What’s Been On My Mind

It’s been a long five months. Surreal. Scary. Confusing. Boring. Terrifying. I don’t even know anymore. How many emotions can you fit into five months? It’s been everything.

March 11, 2020.

Jazz vs. Thunder.

It feels like it’s one of those moments where 10 years from now people will be like, “Man, where were you when it went down?” I know everybody says it felt like being in a movie, but to actually be on the floor when the security guards came running out to shut down the NBA season … surreal doesn’t even explain it.

We knew some people were feeling sick, but it didn’t even enter our minds that somebody could have coronavirus. Back then, it was still such an unknown thing. It was something you saw on the news. It wasn’t real life, you know? So when the dudes in the Men in Black suits came running out onto the floor, my first thought was literally, O.K., there’s probably a leak in the ceiling or something.

Then there’s more and more dudes in suits, and you’re like, Is the FBI swarming this building right now?

They took us back to the locker room, and everybody’s phones were going crazy. Calls, not just texts. That’s when you know something’s up. Then they told us that nobody was allowed to leave, and that’s when you really know something’s up.

To actually be on the floor when the security guards came running out to shut down the NBA season … surreal doesn’t even explain it.

When we found out that Rudy had tested positive, that was a really difficult first hour. You’re thinking of everybody you came in contact with (I was just with my mom and sister in New York), you’re googling stuff (always a bad idea), you’re trying to respond to all the people who are worried about you. It was so many different emotions.

But we were locked down in there for eight hours, man. There’s only so long you can be nervous. After the first hour, we couldn’t take it anymore. We shut off all the TVs and we put our phones on silent and we just tried to break the tension by talking and just enjoying each other’s company. We learned a lot about one another in that moment. And I know this is going to sound weird, but when I think back on those seven hours, it was a really important moment in my life. It was deep.

We thought the NBA season was over. But more than that, we thought our lives could be in real danger. In the back of your mind, you’re not thinking about basketball. You’re thinking about everybody and everything you love. Your mom, your sister, your dog, your mom’s sweet potatoes, your Saturday mornings, your life.

And in the midst of all that, we were talking and laughing and telling stories.

That was a really profound moment. Especially with everything that came after it. When I tested positive myself, I was in full isolation at my mom’s house in Connecticut. They put me down in the basement with a blanket and an Xbox. No windows. No fresh air. Full-on vampire mode. My mom would leave a plate of food at the top of the stairs for me, and I’d crack the door open and snatch the plate and a beam of sunlight would hit me like … I don’t even know … like I was Count Chocula or something.

I was down there for two weeks, just waiting. Just hoping that I wouldn’t wake up the next day showing symptoms. And the weirdest part was that I guess I was like Patient Zero or whatever, so my mom was telling me that there were cars camped outside the house 24/7. What they were looking for, I don’t know. Meanwhile I’m down in the bunker playing Call of Duty.

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

Thank God that I turned out to be asymptomatic, but every single night when I tried to fall asleep, my mind would go to some really interesting places. There’s only so much 2K you can play to squash the anxiety. Once your head hits the pillow, it’s just you and all these thoughts that you’ve been ignoring for the last few years, when it was go, go, go.

That time allowed me to really take a hard look at my life. It allowed me to think about who I want to be. Not as an NBA player, but as a human being. And a big part of that for me is to be honest about how I feel about what’s going on in this country, no matter how certain people may feel about it.

I was already feeling that way in March, and the murder of George Floyd only strengthened that conviction. With the league back, and the world watching, we simply cannot be silent.

And listen, if you make it to the league, it’s a dream. We all know how fortunate we are to play this game for a living. Ever since I was a little kid. Ever since I was playing imaginary five-on-five in my head in the living room. Ever since I was jumping up and slapping the top of the archway into our kitchen like I was dunking. I used to do that every single day.

Whap.

“MJ!!!”

I was literally reaching for that dream.

And now, really living that dream, I won’t ever take that for granted.

But.…

But!!!

This is bigger than basketball. Everybody knows it in their soul. This moment that we are living in right now is more important than the NBA coming back. It’s more important than who wins the title.

But it’s important to say that this is not about us, as professional athletes. That’s what some people don’t get. This is not about LeBron James or Dame Lillard or James Harden and all the other guys around the league who have been out in the streets, who have been using their platform to bring awareness to the injustices that Black men and women have faced for decades.

They’re not speaking for them.

They’re speaking for the kids in the Bronx or in Chicago or in Compton who don’t have that platform. One thing that I realized during all this time away was that it’s my responsibility to speak up for the kids who don’t have the opportunities that I had growing up. Everybody has a different story, but it’s the same reality underneath the surface. Personally, I grew up as one of the only Black kids in a predominantly white school. It’s important to say that I love the friends that I grew up with. They’re still some of my best friends in the world. I was blessed to have great teachers, great coaches, a great education. My mother worked so hard to give me that reality, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

This moment that we are living in right now is more important than the NBA coming back.

But you know what? If we’re being honest.…

My basketball gear? My sweatshirt, my track pants, my jackets with the team logo on the chest?

In certain neighborhoods, that was like my armor.

That was my, “I’m good!”

That was my, “I’m supposed to be here, don’t panic!”

That was my Spider-Man costume that I couldn’t forget every time I left the house.

And if you think that I’m exaggerating, or that I’m paranoid, then you really haven’t been paying attention to the world around you. You haven’t been paying attention to the way that certain people view Black men, even when they’re minding their own business.

Even when they’re bird-watching in Central Park. In a split second, you can become a “threat.” In a split second, the police are on their way.

So you learn from a very young age to adapt. You learn not to wear a hoodie in certain neighborhoods. You learn to wear that Duke Blue Devil or that Louisville Cardinal as a form of protection. You learn to go out of your way to try to be … perfect.

It’s like you’re always on, when you leave the house. You always have to be present. You always have to be aware. Always smiling, always nonthreatening.

To be honest, it’s exhausting.

And even then, even if you check all the boxes, in the back of your mind, every time you see a police officer, your heart beats a little faster. That’s just a fact, no matter how you grew up, or who you are, or how much money you have. It’s not imagined. It’s the reality for Black men in America. Everybody has a story, even those of us who were lucky enough to never experience police brutality.

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

When I was in college at Louisville, I was driving in a car with a few of my teammates when we got pulled over by a white police officer. We all know how this can go. You have three or four young Black men getting pulled over in a nice car in a certain neighborhood, and immediately there’s a tension. You feel it in your chest. You’re thinking, Is this going to be the moment?

I’ll never forget this.…

The officer is questioning us about what we’re doing, and where we’re going, and it felt like there was going to be a problem, and then he’s looking at our clothes … 

He literally says, “The only reason why I’m letting you go is because I love your coach.”

We were all wearing our Louisville gear.

Because I love your coach.

I think about that all the time, just the way he said it.

If we weren’t wearing that Cardinal on our chest, does it go a different way? All of a sudden, are we sitting on the curb? All of a sudden, are we getting cuffed? All of a sudden, is there a problem? Is there a threat?

It can happen in an instant, and that’s the fear that we grow up with.

It’s heartbreaking that it took the death of George Floyd for White America to finally sit through those excruciating eight minutes and 46 seconds and say … “Oh. This is real.”

The only reason why I’m letting you go is because I love your coach.”

Black people should not be killed for passing a counterfeit $20 bill.

Black people should not be killed during a no-knock warrant while sleeping in their own apartment.

Or for going out for a run.

Or for wearing a hoodie.

Or for holding a toy gun in a park.

Or simply for existing in this world while somebody else is having a bad day at work.

That’s what I believe. And to borrow a phrase from my guy Kyle Korver, if you wear my jersey, or you chant my name because of what I do for a living, then you should know what I believe in my heart. If you don’t want to hear it, and you want me to just shut up and dribble, then that’s on you. Don’t listen. Don’t educate yourself. Don’t read this.

As NBA players, I feel like we have a responsibility to the world during The Bubble, when all eyes are going to be on us. We can’t just serve as a distraction from reality. We have to keep our foot on the gas. We have to keep having uncomfortable conversations. Even if we’re hated for it by some people.

At the end of the day, if you rock my jersey, then you should know what I stand for. You should know what’s on my heart. And what’s on my heart, after five long, surreal, difficult months, is this….

I love Utah. I love the Jazz. I love all my fans. I love the game of basketball.

But if you’re rocking my jersey while we’re going for the title, do me a favor and don’t just shout out my name.

If you’re rocking my jersey, shout out, “Justice for Breonna Taylor.”

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