| Indianapolis Star
Watch: Athletes join protest in downtown Indianapolis for ‘Monumental March’
Tamika Catchings, George Hill, LaVall Jordan and other players and coaches joined protesters in downtown Indianapolis on Sunday, June 14, 2020.
INDIANAPOLIS — A revolution that began in May in Minneapolis, pivoted three months later to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and found an unlikely leader in soft-spoken Indianapolis native George Hill, reaches a climax one week from today.
It was two months ago that the NBA declared war on President Trump’s 2020 campaign. The final battle will be waged on the first Tuesday of November, Election Day, and the battleground includes 125 S. Pennsylvania in downtown Indianapolis, an address you know better as Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the home of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers and WNBA’s Indiana Fever.
Oh, you’ve been conscripted into the NBA players’ war on President Trump’s bid for re-election. Some would call you freedom fighters. Others, pawns. Whatever our political leanings, we cannot argue the historical nature – the unvarnished attack – of what we’ve been watching in a movement triggered nearly five months ago by LeBron James and sparked anew in August by Hill.
We’ve seen professional athletes speak out politically, but we’ve never seen anything like what the NBA – its players, the league itself – has done in response to the events of Aug. 23. That was the day a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, fired seven bullets toward the back of Jacob Blake while his children watched, the latest outrage in a summer of social unrest.
America was still recovering from the death of unarmed Black suspect George Floyd under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, and from the protests and rioting that reached Indianapolis and fanned across America, when Blake was shot in Kenosha. By then the NBA restart was underway in the coronavirus bubble of Orlando, a restart that had drawn mixed feelings from players who wanted to get back to their games, but not if it meant taking the focus from the social justice movement.
When Blake was shot, NBA players – already playing on courts bearing the #BlackLivesMatter slogan in mostly empty Orlando arenas – recoiled.
It was Hill who told his teammates that he wouldn’t, that he couldn’t, play in the Bucks’ next scheduled game, Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic. The team discussed the matter and decided to boycott. The rest of the league followed suit, shutting down the NBA playoffs for three days, a protest that spread across the country as the WNBA, Major League Baseball and MLS canceled games. NFL teams refused to practice.
The revolution was underway.
The NBA was taking aim at President Trump’s campaign for re-election.
LeBron leading the way
To get its players back onto the court for the playoffs, the NBA tacitly approved its war on President Trump’s 2020 campaign by offering its arenas as election sites – places to register, to vote early, and/or to vote on Nov. 3.
This hasn’t been the case in every market, you understand. Close to 20 NBA arenas are being used for this election, but this is a battle, and the side opposite the NBA is defending itself. In Miami, where the Heat had planned to use American Airlines Arena as a polling place, that request was rejected by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Republican who has been endorsed by President Trump, and whose electorate of 2.7 million is roughly 87% Black or Hispanic.
“To say we are disappointed is an understatement,” the Heat said in a statement after that decision was announced last month. “But to the extent that forces involved in making this decision think this will quiet our voice on the importance of voting, they should know we will not be deterred.”
Forces involved in making this decision …
That’s about as close as anyone in the NBA will come to naming names, or calling this what it is: An attempt by the league to vote President Trump out of office in favor of Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
James, who recently led the Los Angeles Lakers to the 2020 NBA title, started this movement shortly after the death of Floyd by creating the More Than a Vote organization in June to combat Black voter suppression. On top of registering voters, More Than a Vote has signed up more than 10,000 election volunteers in predominantly Black electoral districts. Election officials consider a shortage of poll workers a serious hurdle to voter turnout, a problem historically exacerbated in Black communities that tend to have fewer polling locations and longer wait times than other communities.
But not even LeBron has declared war on President Trump. Not by name, anyway. He doesn’t have to; his position has been well known since the 2016 election when he made an appearance at a Hillary Clinton rally. In a lengthy interview in June with The New York Times about his More Than a Vote initiative, LeBron didn’t mention President Trump.
Few people around the NBA are saying his name, but their objective is clear.
And it is not: Vote.
Rather: Vote him out.
Foretold by Elton John’s ‘Levon’
The Pacers’ and Fever’s fingerprints are all over this election. They have made available Bankers Life Fieldhouse as one of 188 polling sites in Marion County, with voting booths to be set up in the entryway pavilion, and they have partnered with the Sacramento Kings’ “Rally the Vote” voting registration initiative as well as last week’s “Team Up For Change” virtual summit, which organizers said was meant “to unite, inspire and activate around the NBA’s and WNBA’s shared commitment to racial equality and social justice.”
Again, President Trump’s name is never mentioned. But the keywords are obvious, especially this one: “change.”
The effort to increase voter turnout across America, and here in Indiana, might look bipartisan. But it doesn’t feel that way. It is the left that fears “voter suppression,” using that phrase as a charge against the right, and noting President Trump’s attempt to oppose funding for the U.S. Postal Service. He says mail-in ballots will lead to fraud; opponents see that as more suppression.
The battle lines seem clearly drawn, but when the Pacers announced in early September a two-month statewide campaign to increase turnout, it was Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson – a Republican – leading the effort.
Nationwide, the Election Super Centers Project – which has helped turn more than 50 NBA, NFL, MLB and college arenas or stadiums into voting sites, including the Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium – would appear to be another all-out campaign against President Trump’s re-election. But Super Centers leadership is bipartisan, with two lead advisors: NBA coach and outspoken social justice advocate Doc Rivers, and Lawrence Wilkerson, a Republican and retired Army colonel who served as chief of staff to Republican former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
“We are using arenas to protect the most precious of our constitutional rights,” Rivers says on the Election Super Centers website, “the right to vote.”
Consider the math offered by Super Centers co-chair Eugene Jarecki, an American filmmaker and author who created the “Trump Death Clock,” a 56-foot billboard in New York City’s Times Square on the COVID-19 death toll in America:
“I want to get between 50 and 100 arenas open across the country,” Jarecki told NBC News. “I think each one of them can process about 40,000 people. So do the math on how huge that could be.”
That’s between 2 million and 4 million voters, welcomed into their homes by NBA and other sports franchises who have made their preference clear: Biden, not Trump.
After all we’ve been through as a country this summer, this year, since 2016, the whole thing feels almost apocryphal. The 2020 U.S. presidential election feels like the biggest event of our lifetime, an event that will cause great celebration or mourning, depending on your point of view. As for me, I keep hearing the lyrics to Elton John’s 1971 song “Levon” as Election Day approaches like headlights in a train tunnel.
He was born a pauper to a pawn on a Christmas day
When the New York Times said God is dead and the war’s begun
One way or another, the NBA revolution against the 45th president of the United States is nearing an end. However it turns out, may God help us. Or forgive us.