An emotional Chris Paul said NBA players needed “to reset” and “to refocus” over the past few days after another police shooting of a Black man, but they have emerged united and ready to complete the NBA postseason.
“It’s definitely been a very emotional past couple of days, not only for myself, but everyone,” Paul said. “… I’ve got to give a lot of credit to our players. It’s been a hard time. Everyone’s shouldering a lot, but the communication that [we’re] having is amazing. What everyone saw in the past couple days was guys just needing to reset, to refocus, and that’s what we did.”
Paul has been president of the NBA Players Association since 2013 and on the executive committee since 2009. Paul played a vital part in the NBA resuming the season in the Orlando, Florida, bubble after the COVID-19 shutdown in March.
The NBA season faced another possible shutdown as players reconsidered their role in the social justice movement following Sunday’s police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
On Wednesday, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play Game 5 against the Orlando Magic, setting off a reaction around the NBA and the sports world at large. As NBA players decided on their next steps, meetings and side meetings followed, with reports of emotional and sometimes contentious conversations being part of them.
“It was never about one person. It was never about one team. It was all about all of us together,” Paul said. “When the events happened the other day of the game, we stood in solidarity with our brothers from Milwaukee. Everything that we do is about the brotherhood, about everyone as a whole. So it was never about what is this one team or what is this one player going to do.”
Paul said players needed some time to process and consider their place as advocates and voices of social justice reforms in the wake of Blake’s shooting.
“The shootings that continue to happen, it creates a lot of unrest. A whole lot of unrest,” Paul said. “For us, to have a predominantly African American league, to see our Black brothers being shot and killed on a daily basis, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to us. Everyone expects us to go out and play. I get it. But we needed some time. All of us.
“We needed some time to refocus and understand that we can do that. We’re human, at the end of the day. A lot of times people pass a lot of judgment about what we should do or what we shouldn’t do, but I give our guys a lot of credit because they’ve been doing a hell of a job. A hell of a job down here performing and speaking on the different social injustices going on day in and day out. While trying to be a great athlete. While trying to be a great husband. While trying to be a great father.”
One of Paul’s focuses has been on voting. He says players are pushing NBA franchises and team owners to open arenas and practice facilities as voting locations, among other ideas to promote it. The NBA and NBPA released a joint statement Friday detailing a set of initiatives, including using arenas as polling sites.
While players discussed a myriad of things in their meetings with regard to continuing the season, Paul said the opportunity to remain at the forefront as visible voices for change was the biggest motivating factor to play on.
“We understand how strong our voice is, how powerful our voice is, and ultimately we decided if we go away from this stage we don’t necessarily have that same platform,” Paul said. “We stood in solidarity. We’re going to continue to play, but we’re also going to continue to make sure our voices are heard.
“The other thing is, not just making sure our voices are heard, we’re about action. That’s what our meeting was about, is the real action. Guys said, ‘We’ve been saying this, we’ve been saying that, but what’s the action?’ So we had a big meeting with all the players and then we had a smaller meeting where two players from every team came. I think that was very informational and we got to talk to the different [team] governors and we told them the action that we wanted to see in place.”
Paul said he spoke with Blake’s father (who shares a hometown connection to Paul, having attended college in North Carolina at Winston-Salem State), reaffirming a call to action.
“I think for the young guys in our league, to get a chance to see how guys are really coming together and speaking and see real change, real action. Because guys are tired. Like, I mean, tired. When I say ‘tired,’ we’re not physically tired, we’re just tired of seeing the same thing over and over again, right?” Paul said.
“It’s emotional, especially when you’re a Black man and you know that, when [Milwaukee’s] George Hill spoke, he talked about being a Black man and he was hurt. He was hurt. We’re all hurt. We’re all tired of just seeing the same thing over and over again, and everybody just expects us to be OK, just because we get paid great money. You know, we’re human. We have real feelings. And I’m glad that we got the chance to get in a room together to talk with one another and not just cross paths and say, ‘Good luck in your game today.'”
Asked what he hopes people understand from the perspective of players, Paul reiterated that it’s not about them.
“Just understand that you got a league here that understands that it’s not just about any one of us. Our WNBA ladies stood with us. All the other leagues — whether it be baseball, whether it be hockey, whatever it is — we’re human, just like anybody else,” Paul said. “We don’t always do everything right.
“But I’ll tell you, for me, it’s been really tough. It’s been really tough just for the simple fact that when things like this happen, I like to talk to my kids about it. I’m a long way from my kids. I can’t explain to them why this video [of Blake being shot] is going all over the internet. I have an 11-year-old Black son. Black. Son. Who is witnessing this stuff day in and day out. And we’re just trying. And once again I want to go back and just tell our players, ‘Great job.’ Great job. Keep doing what you’re doing and we’re going to continue to make change with action.”
While the emotions were raw, Paul said maintaining a unified front toward achieving the same goal was always the objective for the players, and something that will stick with him.
“Fifteen years in this league and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Paul said. “But the voices that were heard, I’ll never forget it. I’ll never forget it.”