Basketball courts

NBA boycott resonates on local basketball courts

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Jamil Abiad hopes the young athletes who signed up for his Summer Grind basketball camp will be able to perfect their jump shots, get in shape and socialize safely after a summer locked down due to the pandemic.

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“I try to help kids with their skills, help them achieve their hopes and dreams,” says Abiad, a former Bishop’s University basketball star who went on to play professionally in Europe.

But there’s another lesson he hopes to impart as he huddles with his players: Black Lives Matter.

If months of BLM protests in US cities and here in Canada hadn’t caught the attention of young people, then this week’s boycott by NBA superstars certainly did. What began with the Milwaukee Bucks refusing to play after police in Kenosha, Wis., shot a black man, Jacob Blake, seven times in the back during a traffic stop, continued Thursday with walkouts from other teams. The Toronto Raptors-Boston Celtics opener was the last to be postponed by the boycott. The protest has also spread to other sports, including Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League.

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“Kids don’t think about it,” Abiad said, as players hit pointers and layups on soggy pitches near Woodroffe High School Thursday morning. “I think they are nervous. I talk about it all the time because kids see it, they hear it, but they don’t really vocalize it.

“I want them to understand that they also have to initiate change. Even if they are 15, 16 or 17 years old, they are the next generation to progress.

One of Abiad’s students who paid attention is 16-year-old Salih Halawa. He is adamant when asked if he supports the actions of his basketball heroes.

“One hundred percent,” Halawa said. “It’s a permanent cause in the United States and even in Canada. They are protesting for a reason – black lives – and after three months of protesting they (black people) are still getting shot. It’s a daily occurrence these days.

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“It’s a very good idea that they hit and they don’t want to play. Social networks have a lot to do with it. They have millions and millions of subscribers and they are influencers for our community. They are heard,” Halawa said. “But I don’t think politicians pay attention to it.”

The NBA’s stance in response to the Kenosha police shooting is further educating a wider audience who “can’t ignore” the issues any longer, Carleton Ravens head coach Taffe Charles said.

“When you see a situation like this happen again, people aren’t going to just pretend it didn’t happen and go about their daily lives, and pretend everything is fine, especially with the position that has been taken after the murder of George Floyd,” Charles said.

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“I don’t know what the end game is, other than getting absolutely justice, but it’s a form of protest and it’s raising awareness – that we don’t agree with these situations happening over and over again, and that when these situations have occurred in the past, we have done nothing (to remedy them).

Carleton Ravens head coach Taffe Charles said the NBA protest brings heightened awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement that cannot be ignored.
Carleton Ravens head coach Taffe Charles said the NBA protest brings heightened awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement that cannot be ignored. Photo by Arthur Ward /Arthur Ward

Athletes acting for social change are nothing new. From the iconic Black Power salute by American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics to Muhammad Ali imprisoned for his draft defiance and the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem, black athletes have often found sport to be their best – perhaps their only – way to be heard.

“Hopefully by 2020 things will be much better than they are now,” said Abiad, whose mother is African and father Lebanese.

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“For me, growing up as a young black man, I saw what was happening. What NBA players are doing now is definitely something that needs to be done. There must be a stall. Something has to happen. »

Charles said he had tough conversations about running with his Ravens team.

“Of the 15 players on our team, seven are minorities, and we went around and asked everyone to describe a single instance where they felt someone was being racist. And the non-minority, although very inclusive and good, when they heard it, they were shocked. It was like, ‘Whoa, I had no idea,'” he said.

“When it was expressed to them, it was amazing how much better they understood, because they had no idea, and these are players they are close to and will fight with. “

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Charles said there has been a better understanding of the issues faced by minorities, and in particular the black community, following some high-profile incidents in the sports world.

He referenced the recent case involving Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri and how he was handled by arena security after winning the 2019 NBA championship.

“He’s the president of a team that just won the NBA Finals, wearing a suit, and always the reaction, based on the color of his skin, he was treated a certain way, and that’s probably the biggest problem.

“People can say, ‘It could happen to anyone,’ but the problem is that it doesn’t happen to everyone, it happens to minorities on a much larger level than it does to non-minorities, and I think it’s undeniable.”

Salih Halawa, 16, right, with coach Jamil Abiad says he supports the NBA players' protest
Salih Halawa, 16, right, with coach Jamil Abiad says he supports the NBA players’ protest “100%”. .jpg

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