Breonna Taylor and the NBA Playoffs: Collapsing the Distance Between the Game and Life

“It’s frustrating. It’s been 194 days and still no justice. Still fighting for the same thing. It was a lot to process. It was a tough day. Tough day for all of us.”

Above, Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics, responding to a question about the impact of the Breonna Taylor verdict on the day of September 23rd.

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Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics, with his two year-old Deuce, in February.

Here we are after Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The air hasn’t seeped out of this Orlando NBA bubble. Four teams remain. The Miami Heat took a 3–1 lead over the Boston Celtics last night. As many have noted, the Celtics could just as easily be up 3–1 as down 3–1. No lead is safe in the NBA anymore. Games swing in a matter of seconds. A turnover leads to a transition three-pointer. A missed corner 3 leads to a layup on the other end. Just a few possessions and a 14-point lead is down to 6. No lead is safe.

And what all thinking and caring human beings who love basketball might also finally recognize fully…no black American is safe, not in the United States of 2020, not when it comes to policing and our legal system.

Breonna Taylor did nothing wrong. She was killed by a police ambush that had the wrong apartment. Read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ profile of Taylor, based on interviews with her mom, Tamika Palmer, in Vanity Fair.

I’d like to write about the NBA today, but after watching Jayson Tatum’s post-game press conference, it’s clear to me that the game is not the story. The story is the same story we’ve heard too many times. That a black life taken by the police can be easily justified. That the use of deadly force is often acceptable, when it clearly should not be. That reforming our justice system and reforming our police are never-ending battles, that will take white America insisting on change for change to take place.

If you have any psychological or emotional investment in the Black Lives Matter movement, if you genuinely means something to you, then yesterday was a difficult day for you. Injustice was served once again..this time in Kentucky, and the impact echoed again around the country.

All Celtics fans who watched their team lose Game 4 last night probably felt frustrated. Probably felt like their team just didn’t come out with the right energy last night. They’re probably wondering what Game 5 will look like on Friday. “Celtics in 7” is trending on Twitter. Nobody is giving up yet. Hope remains for the Celtics in this playoff series. Having strong feelings and deep investment in a basketball game is a strange thing. Fandom is a collective experience. Especially in these chaotic, upside-down times, rooting for something is good for your psyche. Hope is powerful. It also probably means you have somewhere to live, have enough food to eat, and have things settled enough in your life to dedicate some time and energy to rooting for that team. Protest is also a collective experience. Any NBA fan has to accept that means the game is no longer just a game. In fact, it never was.

Writing. Poetry. Personal Essays. On the NBA, MLB, media, journalism, culture, teaching and humor.

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