Long Island Nets forward Justin Anderson was feeling conflicted.
The 26-year-old G League player — who has appeared in 219 career NBA games with Dallas, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Brooklyn — knew he wanted to participate in a peaceful protest over racial injustice in Atlanta alongside his close friends Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon.
Yet Anderson, a former first-round pick of the Mavericks in 2015, wondered if his participation might negatively impact his goal of returning to the NBA.
Will this affect my image? Will this affect my standing with the league?
“Those guys have guaranteed contracts,” Anderson told Yahoo Sports. “I was the only person who was going out and speaking and doing this from a G League perspective.”
Ultimately, Anderson decided to go through with it and make his voice heard on Saturday night.
He's glad he did.
“What made me get over my fear was understanding that I was going to be a black man in America — and my future children are going to be black kids in America — way longer than my playing career,” Anderson said. “It was a risk that I was willing to take, and luckily my colleagues continued to go out there and walk alongside me and put us at an even playing field. But it was definitely a risk.”
Anderson said his mother, Kim, was extremely worried about him, “Crying and shaking the whole time he was out of the house.”
Protests have occurred in cities nationwide following the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25 in Minneapolis.
“I'm just glad everyone came out safely and the message we sent came across as very peaceful,” Anderson said. “We wanted everyone to understand that our lives matter — black lives matter, in particular — and we wanted to make sure that we did this peacefully and respectfully, and I think we did a good job with that.”
Anderson received positive feedback from his former coach, Atlanta’s Lloyd Pierce, as well as Long Island general manager Matt Riccardi, allaying his fears.
“Matt was extremely proud of how I represented myself, my family and the Nets,” Anderson said. “And Lloyd reached out and said the same thing. It really gave me a lot of confidence, because if I'm being honest and vulnerable, I was really worried about how it would be taken from higher-ups in the NBA when I'm trying so hard to put myself in a position — and working my butt off — to get back in the league. It was a great feeling that those people stood with me.”
Anderson described what it was like walking alongside Brown (a younger player who sought advice from Anderson before Brown began his college career at Cal) and Brogdon (Anderson’s former teammate at Virginia).
“Jaylen did an unbelievable job of expressing how he felt among the people that were walking with us,” Anderson said. “People came in and joined and people honked their horns. Some cops actually gave us impromptu escorts, so credit to the Atlanta Police Department for that. I told Malcolm on the walk, 'Hey man, you're my brother and you know I'm with you every step of the way. I got your back.'
“We had a successful, peaceful march and we wanted to express ourselves with everything that's going on in America in terms of the injustices in our political system and our serve-and-protect systems, and the murders that occurred. It's traumatized a lot of us. We wanted to make it bigger than ourselves, and I think it went really well.
“I don't have kids yet, but I want them to understand the discrimination that goes on in this country. And I want to be able to show them the picture of me walking with my two friends and speaking out against the injustices. I want them to be able to say, ‘That's my dad, he was out there fighting for our freedoms.’”
Anderson was particularly proud of how Brown handled himself.
“I remember when Jaylen was about to go to Cal, I was at my pre-draft camp out in Las Vegas. He came up to me in the gym and asked if we could go get some lunch at this place, Tom's Urban,” Anderson said. “He picked my brain about what college was like and how I managed my time. He said he respected my approach and had been watching me. That was in 2015, and here we are five years later and he's leading a peaceful protest at 23 years old in one of the major cities in America.
“Proud is an understatement.”
Added Anderson: “This is something that we're dealing with — it's something that's been embedded in our country for 400-plus years — and right now is an opportunity for everyone — white, black or any other culture — to really speak their truth. Because at the end of the day, no one wants to lose a loved one or a family member to injustice. Our police officers are here to protect and serve, and we want them to do that to the best of their ability. But it's not their job to take matters into their own hands and take someone else's life. I think everyone's deserving of due process.
“The most important thing right now is for us to stay safe. Violence is not the answer. We need to continue to educate and better ourselves and grow as individuals. Like Gandhi said, 'Be the change that you wish to see in the world.'”
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