OKC Thunder: Chris Paul vows player voices will continue to be heard
Chris Paul, handling one crisis after another this season, has kept a steady voice.
But speaking Friday afternoon, two days after NBA players refused to take the court in protest of another police shooting of a Black man, Paul’s voice finally cracked.
“Guys are tired,” Paul said. “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.”
Jacob Blake grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina — Paul’s hometown. Blake’s father attended Winston-Salem State University, just like Paul’s parents.
Paul recently spoke to Blake’s father, and Paul described the call as emotional.
“Everybody just expects us to be OK just because we get paid great money,” Paul said. “We're human. We have real feelings.”
Between Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, Paul guided not only his Thunder team, but also players from the 12 other teams still inside the bubble. After the strike, they had to figure out what was next, and if they still wanted to play.
“What everyone saw in the past couple of days was guys just needing to reset, refocus,” Paul said. “And that's what we did.”
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Their actions have already brought results.
The NBA and National Basketball Players Association announced Friday that playoff games will resume Saturday with the understanding of three commitments.
One, that a social justice coalition will be formed. Two, that team-owned arenas will be converted into voting locations for November’s general election. Three, that advertising spots will be produced during playoff games to promote civic engagement in local and national elections.
Paul said those steps were the result of players keeping their foot on the pedal.
“We understand how strong our voice is, how powerful our voice is,” Paul said. “Ultimately we decided if we go away from this stage, we don't necessarily have that same platform. So we stood in solidarity. We're gonna continue to play, but we’re also going to continue to make sure that our voices are heard.”
It’s the second time this season Paul has led players through a stoppage in play. Both stoppages came with plans for how to return.
“I don't think there's ever been a president of the Players Association that's had to endure and handle what he's had to handle this season,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I think a lot of times people fail to realize that Chris is a son, he's a brother, he's a father and he's a husband … He's human like everybody else, and the job that he has done throughout all this has been absolutely remarkable.”
Paul’s role as a father has changed since the Thunder arrived to the bubble 51 days ago.
As the video of Blake being shot seven times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, circulated on social media, Paul wasn’t able to comfort his kids in person.
“I can't explain to them why this video is going all over the internet,” Paul said. “I have an 11-year-old Black son who is witnessing this stuff day in and day out.”
Paul noted a significant anniversary Friday.
He was speaking exactly 57 years after the March on Washington. Sixty-five years after 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi.
“We’re still fighting these same social injustices on a daily basis,” Paul said.
After fielding questions for 10 minutes, Paul finished his thoughts with a thank you to his fellow players.
“Great job. Great job,” Paul repeated. “Keep doing what you're doing, and we're going to continue to make change with action.”