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"We're Simply Afraid": LeBron James, NBA participant, shares how previous experiences made worry of the police – USA TODAY

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USA TODAY Sports' Jeff Zillgitt breaks demand from NBA players to boycott playoff games.

USA TODAY

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida – LeBron James became increasingly disturbed when he saw the video.

These feelings surfaced not only when the Los Angeles Lakers star saw footage of cops shooting seven times in the back at Jacob Blake, a black man. Or when a white cop killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man, after kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes.

James also experienced these emotions while watching a video of Elijah Pierre-Louis, a 10-year-old black kid who hid behind a car in his driveway as police drove down the street. Pierre-Louis only shot a basketball on his driveway again when the police car was no longer there. This video reminded James of his childhood black, growing up in a single-family household in Akron, Ohio.

"It's sad, but I know what he's going through because I was one of those kids who lived on the projects," James said recently. “When we saw a police officer rolling, we hid behind a wall and waited for them to roll out. When we saw the police officers' lights come on, we would run even though we were not doing anything wrong. We're just scared. It's tough."

(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70ky8FNjPGI (/ embed)

These experiences partly explain why NBA players have increasingly spoken of systemic racism and police brutality in recent years. After the Minneapolis Police Force killed Floyd on Memorial Day, the NBA players' union asked the league for assurances that they would support the restart of the season with words and initiatives as a platform to fight systemic racism.

The league's board of governors announced that all 30 NBA teams will collectively contribute $ 300 million over the next 10 years to fund a newly created NBA foundation "dedicated to creating greater economic empowerment for the black community." dedicates ". The NBA also allowed players to wear pre-approved messages on their jerseys, including Black Lives Matter, Education Reform and I Can & # 39; t Breathe. The players locked their arms and kneeled for the national anthem as the games started in the bubble on July 31, but there was no impact from the league for that.

After police shot Blake, another unarmed black man, some players openly wondered if it would be better for them to boycott the rest of the season so they could focus on efforts to tackle racial injustices.

LeBron James wears a Black Lives Matter shirt as he points up and kneels with his teammates during the national anthem before the opening game in the NBA bubble. (Photo: Mike Ehrmann, AP)

The Milwaukee Bucks, which play about 40 miles north of Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Blake was shot, failed to speak out against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, which eventually led the NBA to postpone the rest of the games on Wednesday. Players considered ending the season. After two days of meeting and deliberation, the league resumes play on Saturday and the NBA announced further initiatives to combat systemic racism and social injustice.

"You can't underestimate the trauma we experience every day from watching our phones and these videos," said Fred VanVleet, the guardian of the Toronto Raptors. "My father was killed when I was young. So there are a lot of things that go into taking in all of this information."

Players face backlash on social media and television for speaking out on systemic racism or kneeling during the national anthem. When these players watch videos of cops killing unarmed blacks, bad memories are often revived.

"You saw things that made you fear the police," said Lakers striker Anthony Davis. "And it just stays with you when you grow up."

Davis grew up in Englewood on Chicago's Southside and avoided rampant drug use and gang violence in the area. To do this, however, he had to attend the Perspectives Charter School from sixth to twelfth grade. He also had to accept that he couldn't be a social butterfly.

"I was fortunate to have everything I needed at home," said Davis. “I had a basketball hoop in my yard. Both of my parents were there. My parents both worked and had cars. I was able to attend a school outside the city center. But I still lived in the city and saw things from my point of view from both sides – the police and the black side. And it just has to get better. "

Houston Rockets forward Robert Covington didn't feel so blessed in Bellwood, Illinois. He had enough respect for law enforcement because his uncle was a cop who said, "was one of those good people who did what he obeyed right." But Covington has learned firsthand that this is not always the case.

"I've had contact with the police before," Covington said. “It was a very small thing to play football in the street. It's so simple and yet the policeman says,“ I'll break your legs if you don't do what I say. ”Little things like that set you off. "

CONCLUDE

SportsPulse: Clippers head coach Doc Rivers was emotional during his post-game press conference as he addressed his outrage over the shooting of Jacob Blake.

USA TODAY

All of this leaves NBA players concerned about what their kids might experience with the police. You may be able to support them financially and give them access to quality schools. But what about everyday interactions? What if they drive?

Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers received advice on how to deal with the police from his father Grady, who was a police officer in Maywood, Illinois. After the missile guard Austin Rivers got his driver's license, his father gave him the lecture on how to deal with an officer after he was run over.

"Be careful, show your hands, be respectful," recalled Doc Rivers. “It's funny though. Even so, sometimes you still get shot, so I don't know. It's just very difficult. "

Not only are NBA players increasingly concerned about the state of the world and the extent to which police brutality and systemic racism are being addressed. You have also become increasingly stressed out; the next victim could be a family member, friend, or even yourself.

"You always have in the back of your mind," You have to be careful, "James said." You always have to stand on your toes. You just don't know it. "

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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