SALT LAKE CITY — As controversy lingered from the Russell Westbrook and Utah Jazz fan incident at Vivint Arena earlier this week, Royce O’Neale, Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh, Jae Crowder and Donovan Mitchell all huddled up once the team landed in Phoenix on Tuesday.
The teammates not only discussed the situation in depth but came up with a plan for the organization to do something special in the wake of the issue. In the end, they decided on wearing shirts that denounced racism during the Jazz’s matchup against Brooklyn on Saturday and the Nets agreed to wear them as well.
With both teams fighting for playoff positioning entering the contest, both in seventh place of their respective conference standings, the squads put their differences aside to wear shirts that featured an image of black and white hands clasped together that read: “You don’t fight racism with racism, you fight racism with solidarity.” – Fred Hampton.
The word “Solidarity” was also stamped on the back of the gray shirts as the Jazz would go on to win 114-98.
“I think that’s really where we got that idea is understanding this game is obviously between two playoff teams that are in the same seed of both conferences, but we went out there and for both teams who were in a tight race, during the intensity of this race to go out there and step aside and take this moment for something that’s bigger than basketball shows where we are today and where we are as teams and where we are in this league, and I think it was important for us to do this and I’m glad we did it,” said Mitchell who ended with a game-high 24 points, six rebounds and four assists.
The Jazz pick up their third consecutive victory before going on a four-game road trip to Washington, New York, Atlanta and Chicago next week. Despite falling behind 19-11 in the opening minutes, the Jazz were sparked by a 27-2 run during the first half and then another 14-2 run during the third quarter.
Just one day after the team learned that Dante Exum would be out indefinitely with a partially torn patellar tendon in his right knee, Crowder, Kyle Korver, Raul Neto and Georges Niang stepped up to combine for 40 points off the bench.
Crowder also reached 5,000 career points after posting 12 points off three 3-pointers. However, the off-court message was bigger than anything that happened on the hardwood.
“I honestly feel like when you go through good or bad times, it gives you an opportunity as a group to either come together or fall apart,” Crowder said. “It’s either barbeque or mildew at that point and I think the situation brought not only our players together but our organization. We’ve come together, we’ve been communicating well with our organization and it’s been very helpful for us to build a bigger and stronger relationship with our organization.
“No doubt, it 100 percent feels bigger than basketball because you’ve got to look at when the situation happened, I took myself out of a basketball mode and put myself in dad mode,” he added. “I have a daughter who’s going to live in this world and be on her own so it took me in a different space, so obviously it takes you away from basketball because it is bigger than basketball, it’s the society we live in and you want to make it a better place.”
Rudy Gobert also recorded his 55th double-double of the season with 23 points, 17 boards and three blocks while former Nets draft pick Derrick Favors put up 13 points with 12 rebounds and three swats against his ex-team.
Spencer Dinwiddie led the Nets with 22 points off the bench as All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell added 20 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Udoh may have only logged 1:45 minutes on the night but was an integral piece in deciding on the Hampton quote. Hampton was an important black activist and Illinois Black Panther leader who was murdered at 21 by Chicago police in his apartment on Dec. 4, 1969.4 comments on this story
Although the Jazz have banned both of the fans involved in degrading and offensive conduct against Westbrook on Monday and during the 2018 postseason, Udoh hopes that the topic of racism will continue to bring people together like it has the Jazz organization this entire week.
“I definitely think it is bigger than basketball and just hope that it brings people together and understanding our differences, appreciating our differences then having those tough conversations,” Udoh said. “I think it has (brought us closer as a team). Now, we’ve just got to continue to grow toward our playoff run.”