The former Houston Rockets favourite delivered a passionate speech on TNT’s ‘Inside the NBA’ after players from the Milwaukee Bucks elected to boycott their play-off match against Orlando Magic, in recognition of the brutal police shooting of African-American Jacob Blake last Sunday in Wisconsin.
Appearing alongside co-hosts Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley, Smith explained how he was not able to comprehend what the right course of action was, having been left lost for words at witnessing the footage of police shooting Blake seven times in the back.
“Right now my head is ready to explode like in the thought of what’s going on,” Smith said. “I don’t know if I’m appropriate enough to say it, what the players are feeling and how they’re feeling. I haven’t talked to any player.
“Even driving here and getting into the studio … hearing calls and people talking … and for me, I think the biggest thing now, as a black man, as a former player, I think it’s best for me to support the players and just not to be here tonight … and I figure out what happens after that.”
Smith proceeded to leave the studio, which co-host Johnson responded to by saying ‘And I respect that’, on a night when athletes took a united stance against racial inequality.
All three NBA matches were postponed on Wednesday night, while the two Los Angeles-based sides the Lakers and Clippers are understood to be in favour of boycotting the remainder of the NBA post-season. Fixtures were also abandoned across the Women’s NBA, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer, while the ATP and WTA abandoned Thursday’s tennis action at the Western & Southern Open in support of the anti-racism movement after women’s world No 1 Naomi Osaka withdrew from the competition.
It has been suggested that the NBA will be forced to abandon Thursday’s games as well, with players ready to boycott once more in response to the ongoing racial injustice demonstrated by American law enforcers, and fellow former NBA pro-turned-broadcaster Chris Walker issued an emotional plea for change and in particular called on young black athletes to continue to use their platform for positive change.
“If not now, when? If not during a pandemic and countless lives being lost. If not now, when? That’s all I want to hear from the rest of the night when everybody’s pontificating and thinking and soapboxing and all of that, we know nothing is going to change,” Walker said.
“We get it. If Martin Luther King got shot and risked his life, Medgar Evers, and we’ve seen this in all of our heroes constantly taken down. We understand it’s not going to end, but that does not mean young men that you don’t do anything. Don’t listen to these people telling you don’t do anything because it’s not going to end right away. You are starting something for the next generation and the next generation to take over.
“Do you have to be smart? Yes. Do you have to make sure you have a plan? Yes. Do you have to be articulate about that plan? Yes. All of those things, but that’s what you’re going to do. They’re professionals, they know how to be the best of themselves. So I applaud it. I applaud it because it’s the young people, the young people leading the way. And I applaud them.”