Raptors’ Fred VanVleet says ‘terrible timing’ for NBA to restart, but will play


Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said it was difficult to decide whether to take part in the NBA restart to its season amid the coronavirus pandemic and protests for social justice.

Ultimately, though, he decided to play.

“It sucks,” VanVleet said in a conference call Monday of having to make such a choice. “It’s terrible timing. But that’s been 2020 for us. We all know the right thing to do is to not play, to take a stand. Morally, yes, that makes sense. But life goes on. We’re all young, Black guys. None of us want to give any money back. I don’t think that we should. I think that money can be used in a number of different ways.

“This is not going to end this summer regardless, or over the next couple of months. This issue, racial injustice, social injustice, police brutality, all these things are not ending anytime soon. Our fight was long-term. That was part of my decision.

“But if the league, or more of my guys would have come together and said we didn’t want to play, I would have sat out as well. I wouldn’t have even fought it. I think most of us decided to play. It’s something we’ll have to live with. I trust that my heart’s in the right place and I’m doing enough to make change.”

The Raptors became the first team to travel to Florida ahead of next month’s restart, having decamped to Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers for two weeks before heading into the NBA’s bubble inside Disney World on July 9.

And while Raptors president Masai Ujiri said he didn’t have to convince any of his players — all of whom are participating in the restarted season — to play, he said there were teamwide discussions that he thought were important to get everyone on the same page.

“I think it’s important that we communicate with all our players and this thing takes time,” he said. “It’s a process and we all put our heads together with our organization as much as we can, especially in a situation like this.

“It’s a focus on safety, it’s a focus on individual safety and their families, too. … We have to get everybody involved. Our coaches were involved, our players were involved in this decision to go there.”

Ujiri, the NBA’s only Black president of basketball operations, said the platform the NBA has as part of this return to play in Orlando is something he believes he, the Raptors as an organization and the league as a whole can take advantage of to promote changes in both the NBA and society.

“First of all, this is a really interesting time,” Ujiri said. “Black lives do matter, and we’re going really going to use this platform, I think. It’s continuous, right? This is something that I don’t think is going to stop. Because, so there’s so much, so, so much to be addressed. We have had really good discussions and meetings.

“I think you saw what Adam said on the league level. I think that’s, that’s first and foremost of what the league would do. I think we’re concentrating on a few things. What does the NBA do long term, in terms of what resources are they going to put into this? I think there’s the discussion of Black executives and Black positions in the NBA. And then there’s a discussion of how you use the campus at Orlando, to really show the world that we can be a voice, [the] players can be a voice.”

Players can have personalized social justice, social cause or charity messages on the backs of their jerseys instead of their last names during the upcoming restart, as The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears reported this weekend.

“Yeah, I’ve thought about it,” VanVleet said. “I think it’s cool … something that we’ve talked about in some of our meetings is how do we get some of our ‘propaganda’ — so to call it — to pop out because the only way this is being consumed is on TV. So I think that’s going to go a long way and it’s something that will last for years to come, people will always look back on these games and the first thing they’ll see is whether there’s a fist on the court or a name and they’ll have to look and say, ‘What is that?’ or ‘Who is Breonna Taylor?’ or ‘who is George Floyd?’ if that’s what guys choose.”

VanVleet said he wasn’t sure yet what he would say, as he wanted to have conversations with people in his life before committing to whatever message he chooses to display on his jersey.

“My high school coach, my step-dad, a couple people that I look up to — my financial advisor. Older guys who have been around for a while,” he said.
“My high school coach is an African American studies teacher so I respect his perspective as an older white guy who has a master’s in African American studies.”

As far as life inside the bubble itself goes, VanVleet said he admitted he was concerned about Florida’s rapidly rising COVID-19 case count, and said part of why he was willing to be there was that his family didn’t have to be there with him, which could’ve made them vulnerable to the virus.

Players will have the option to have family members join them if they are on one of the eight teams that advance past the first round of the playoffs — something the defending champion Raptors expect to do. VanVleet said the decision to bring his family with him is something that he’ll figure out as the date draws closer.

“I’m here by myself for awhile and I still will be able to make that decision if they are able to come before the date that allows them to come,” he said. “I will be there for a month or more before they are actually allowed to come. So I will have some sense of what it is like and what things are like and how risky or dangerous it is.

“I definitely respect guys that took the stand to sit out for whatever reason. But my choice was to come play. I’m not right and they’re not wrong. It’s just a personal choice for everybody.”


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