SALT LAKE CITY — Less than a day removed from the racially charged incident at Vivint Arena between a Utah Jazz fan and Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook that put the Jazz organization squarely in a national conversation, a group of Utah players were discussing the issue in Phoenix on Tuesday before Wednesday’s game against the Suns.
The group, which included Donovan Mitchell, Ekpe Udoh, Thabo Sefolosha, Jae Crowder and Royce O’Neale, wanted to do something to show unity surrounding the issue, and the idea to wear a shirt before a home game came up.
On Saturday night as the Jazz took on the Brooklyn Nets at Vivint Arena, over 100 people wore a grey t-shirt that featured an image of black and white hands clasped together. Below the image was a quote from late activist Fred Hampton which says, "You don’t fight racism with racism, you fight racism with solidarity.”
Mitchell was credited for the image idea, while Udoh knew of the quote by Hampton, the deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party who at age 21, along with party leader Mark Clark, were killed by police in 1969 during a raid on the Illinois chapter's headquarters.
The team was united in wanting to wear the shirt, and it was finalized on Wednesday. The Jazz’s public relations staff then put the plans into motion.
Among the people to wear the shirt on Saturday were all Jazz and Nets players (Mitchell contacted D’Angelo Russell and Jared Dudley with the idea) during pregame and halftime warmups, some players’ family members and other members of the Utah organization.
“For everybody to come to this game and wear the shirt, both teams, the owners, president, says a lot for bringing this together,” Udoh said after the game. “We’re ready to attack this conversation and make a better community across the world.”
Mitchell felt the quote had particular significance.
“That quote specifically, it shows what we stand for,” he said after the game. “I think it’s huge because solidarity is togetherness, being together, being united on all fronts. This particular instance was about race, but it’s with all fronts.”
A number of players felt it was important to display unity, to show that the conversations that have taken place since last Monday are more important than the sport they are paid to play.
“It takes you away from being a basketball player and puts you in a different mindset,” Jae Crowder said. “Obviously it was big for (the Nets) to wear the shirts, too.”
Added Kyle Korver: “Obviously we have a bit of a mission here as a team, as an organization, here in the city to use our platform and our voices to bring more people into this conversation and have more people be aware of what’s going on. This is just a small part of that.”
Mitchell noted that throughout the week, the Jazz organization, from owner Gail Miller to team president Steve Starks and others, have been completely supportive of players’ desires to be open with their thoughts about all that has gone on.6 comments on this story
“They went out of their way to address us, to allow us to give our input,” he said. “Gail saying what she said (before Thursday’s game) really hits home. I’m blessed to be able to play for an owner like that. To go out there and say what she said and stick by it, it’s one thing to say it, but the actions that they’ve put toward it has shown that they’re serious about this. We’re all serious about it as well.”
Udoh said he was grateful to be able to represent Hampton, and he hopes the events of this week open up more opportunities for people to continue to educate themselves about the world around them.
“I definitely think it’s bigger than basketball,” he said, “and just hope that it brings people together in understanding our differences, appreciating our differences and having those tough conversations.”