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Wyc Grousbeck on racism: ‘I have a lot to learn and I’m ready to start’

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 6/6/2020 Gary Washburn
Wyc Grousbeck et al. that are talking to each other: The legacy of the Celtics franchise means a lot to team majority owner Wyc Grousbeck. © Jonathan Wiggs The legacy of the Celtics franchise means a lot to team majority owner Wyc Grousbeck.

Celtics majority owner Wyc Grousbeck made a significant and pivotal statement in his 19-second video post on social media this past week.

Grousbeck, a 58-year-old white man, declared that “Black Lives Matter.” He added that “it’s time for us to get together and get rid of racism once and for all.”

In what was the most volatile and stirring week of race relations in decades, several professional and college sports teams released statements following the tragic death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Grousbeck went one further and posted the video to the Celtics’ 3.5 million Twitter followers and the NBA planned on retweeting it to its 30 million followers. Grousbeck said he thought he was doing enough to help fight racism until he realized we all can do more.

“There were a few steps that led up to it and one was spending last weekend not being able to sleep and thinking about that I didn’t know what was going on, that I had not learned enough and that I had not done enough since 2016, when I felt good standing with the guys,” Grousbeck said. “I was very open in my support in whatever they were going to do with the anthem.”

During the 2016-17 preseason, NBA teams, including the Celtics, began locking arms during the national anthem in solidarity in a stand against racial discrimination, sparked by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem. The action lasted throughout the season but didn’t continue into the next. The NBA eventually passed a rule mandating that players who are on the floor during the anthem stand and those who choose not to could stay in the locker room.

Racial issues appeared to soften until May 25, when officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds during an arrest for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill. Floyd, who cried for his mother and begged for breath before losing consciousness, died on the way to the hospital.

“In the time since 2016, I think I may have gotten complacent or less focused,” Grousbeck said. “And I told myself that things were OK. And I might have been fooling myself. There are millions of people that feel the same way right now.”

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Grousbeck said he spoke with the NBA Board of Governors and Celtics players this past week and acknowledged, “I have a lot to learn and I’m ready to start.”

Players such as Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart told Grousbeck they were heartened by his sentiments and offered to help that process. Grousbeck also spoke with Dr. Jim Cash, a minority owner, a frequent attendee at games, and the first Black to play basketball in the Southwest Conference (at Texas Christian).

“I felt so strongly about doing the video that I actually did it right after I hung up a [Zoom] call with the team,” Grousbeck said. “It was part of a back and forth. What do we do as the Celtics? When you realize the Celtics have led the way in the fight against racism since the 1950s and here I am supposed to be continuing the legacy of the Celtics, I’ve got to do everything I can to maintain and enhance what the Celtics are all about. It becomes pretty obvious that being a bystander isn’t good enough.

“You have to step forward and actually make statements and then do things that are effective. That’s the next step. A statement is one thing, but a commitment to a decade of making things better is next.”

It’s easier to make statements now in such a volatile and emotional time, but there are concerns about what happens when the shock and sadness from Floyd’s death dissipates, when COVID-19 lightens, and normalcy returns. Will race be the same priority?

“We’ve talked at the league ownership level; we’ve talked at the team level,” Grousbeck said. “Every call has focused on action. Action not words. But words come first because the thinking and learning come first. I feel more knowledgeable than last Friday, but we can do something serious and effective. The Celtic pride and the Celtic legacy will accept no less than actually doing something.”

The feedback from the video has been positive. Brown, Smart, and Tatum, along with coach Brad Stevens, general manager Danny Ainge, and director of player development Allison Feaster talked extensively over the past few days about the racial climate and shared ideas and experiences.

“That was behind my feeling that this was the time,” Grousbeck said. “Nobody told me what to say, that came from the heart. The idea of coming forward, I was encouraged by the group. The feeling I get from our players is that we all want to be together in this.

“Come join us.”

SMALL WORLD

No vacation planned for Disney

So the NBA has a plan to return. It will bring 22 teams to Disney World to play eight regular-season games and then the entire playoffs in one location. The games will begin July 31, and Game 7 of the NBA Finals is scheduled for Oct. 12. The league’s plan is to limit the offseason to six weeks and begin the 2020-21 season by Dec. 1.

While Disney doesn’t possess a large arena, it has two facilities that will be large enough to house multiple games without fans. The HP Field House, which is in the Wide World of Sports Complex and hosts the Orlando Invitational college basketball tournament during Thanksgiving weekend, is expected to be the main arena for games.

The complex also has the Visa Center, which is smaller but has enough space for six courts. The NBA will spend the next six weeks bringing those facilities up to league standards.

According to former Celtics executive and ex-Suns GM Ryan McDonough, the league will likely schedule six games a day — three per facility — for the regular-season games, and then an adjusted schedule when the playoffs begin.

“I think the league is doing what it should be doing with the cooperation of the teams,” McDonough said.

McDonough said there is a number of “logistical hurdles” that need to be crossed before games are played, especially regarding COVID-19.

“I think they need to get the most accurate, non-evasive tests they can find and continue to test and re-test,” McDonough said. “Finding that balance is the most important thing because we can talk about revenue, we can talk about competitive balance, we can discuss whether 22 teams was the right number to bring to Orlando and the format, but it comes down to the safety of the players.”

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The questions about atmosphere won’t be answered until that first game. What will it be like for players when there are no fans? Will the league pump music into the arena? Will television viewers hear the R-rated language that’s spoken on the floor or hear every word of a coach’s tirade against officials? What is evident is that no team will have a home-court advantage.

“It may benefit the younger teams or the younger players that don’t have as much playoff experiences that haven’t been in hostile environments, especially on the road,” McDonough said. “This isn’t going to be that. It’s not like you’re walking into Game 7 in someone else’s building with the fans all over you. Teams are going to have to bring their own energy. I’ll be fascinated to see how it looks.”

McDonough said he thinks the best three teams in the NBA at the suspension — the Bucks, Clippers, and Lakers — will remain the three best when play resumes.

“But I think that’s less certain because of the unknowns,” he said. “There are teams like Philadelphia, who underachieved, how will they used the break to regroup? We’ve been hearing about the 76ers all year that they’re built for the playoffs and they are big and tough and defensive-minded, but will it or not? I certainly think a team like them will be interesting. They had a chance to reset.”

WINNERS, LOSERS

Ticket to Orlando not for everyone

The 22-team format over the span of 10 weeks at a neutral site in Orlando is about the best the NBA could have done with its resumption of the season, but there are some unhappy teams and unhappy players because of the format. And there are those who are fortunate enough to be in Orlando who probably shouldn’t be.

WINNERS

· Suns, Wizards — Why are they in Orlando? The Wizards are 5½ games back of the Magic for the eighth and final playoff spot with eight games remaining and have to make up 1½ games to force a play-in game. There was little chance the Wizards would have made up that margin if the full season was resumed, but this shortened season and play-in format send some much-needed happiness to the nation’s capital.

As for the Suns, they are six games back of the Grizzlies with eight to play. Not only do they have to get to within four games of the eighth spot, they have to be the ninth-place team. That will be nearly impossible. It was going to be difficult for the Suns to make up six games with 17 to play, but Phoenix also had 11 of those games on the road. That won’t matter now. The Suns will play with nothing to lose because they have no shot at the playoffs. Devin Booker and his teammates are lucky to be in Orlando.

· Lakers — The Lakers were playing their best ball when the season was suspended, but now with LeBron James and the oft-injured Anthony Davis getting more than three months off, they will be ready for a deep run. And the regular-season games can be used as scrimmages because they are 5½ games up on the second-place Clippers in the West. So, with the top seed essentially clinched, the Lakers can use the eight games to get a rhythm and prepare for their first-round opponent. And three months of rest can do nothing but good for the 35-year-old James, who was having a vintage season.

· Spurs — If there was a 16-team cutoff, the Spurs’ 22-year playoff streak would have come to an unceremonious end. Instead, they get one more shot to leapfrog a few teams and at least claim the ninth spot for a play-in game. The Spurs also benefit by playing in a neutral site. They were 11-22 away from AT&T Center, so they’ll have an advantage playing in front of no fans.

· Celtics — Before the suspension, the Celtics were struggling. They had just earned a gutty win at Indiana but had developed a bad habit of blowing large leads. But this was without Jaylen Brown, who strained his right hamstring in a disastrous loss to the Nets. Brown’s hamstring has healed and the Celtics will enter the eight-game stretch healthy and perhaps ready to chase down Toronto for the No. 2 seed. That’s a key seed because it likely means a first-round matchup with the Nets, who are expected to be without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

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LOSERS

· Bucks — The Bucks had home-court advantage throughout the playoffs cinched before the suspension. But they won’t play another game in Milwaukee, one of the toughest road venues in the NBA. While the Bucks will use the final eight games as scrimmages, they will lose the most by not playing any playoff games at home.

· 76ers — The 76ers have the most to lose of any team because of their high expectations. Philadelphia was a league-best 29-2 at Wells Fargo Center, but will not play another game at home. The good news is they will get Ben Simmons back from a back injury and will have a rested Joel Embiid. They also have a chance to claim the No. 4 seed and avoid a matchup with the Celtics in the first round.

· Grizzlies — The Grizzlies played well enough during the regular season to establish a 3½-game lead for the eighth spot in the West. Not only are the Grizzlies not automatically part of the playoff picture in the new format, five competitors behind them also got invited to Orlando with hopes of taking their spot. And even if the Grizzlies maintain that 3½-game lead when the regular season ends, they will be relegated to a play-in game unless their margin is more than four games.

The format adds excitement of a play-in tournament and opportunities for players such as Zion Williamson, Damian Lillard, and De’Aaron Fox to get into the playoffs, but it doesn’t reward the team that played near .500 ball over 65 games to establish that lead for the final spot.

ETC.

Five-ring circus awaits

The NBA projects the 2020-21 season to begin Dec. 1. Why not Dec. 25, a date many would like as a permanent opening day? Because the NBA is against the clock when it comes to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

The NBA wants its players to participate in the Games, which begin July 24. If an 82-game season is pushed back further, then it would perhaps last into July and would prove difficult for the league’s marquee players to participate in the Olympics. The NBA would prefer its season end on a normal schedule — mid-June for the final games of the Finals — giving players a month to rest and then train for Tokyo.

The league has a plethora of timing issues to deal with. And it may have to return to back-to-backs and four-games-in-five-night sets to squeeze 82 games into six fewer weeks.

Layups

As expected, the G League decided to cancel the remainder of its season.For the Celtics, it robs valuable playing time and experience from rookies Tacko Fall and Tremont Waters, but both could participate in the Celtics’ final eight regular-season games because they are on two-way contracts. The Celtics would have to convert their contracts to full NBA deals for them to play in the postseason . . . With the Hawks out of the Orlando resumption, the career of the great Vince Carter is over. While Carter will always been known for his high-flying dunks, including his epic performance at the 2000 dunk contest in Oakland, he should be known as a player who transformed himself from superstar into reliable reserve into veteran sage in his 21 years. Many players would not have accepted the roles Carter did in his final years or would have complained about being mostly a mentor, but Carter had enough game to remain a solid bench player who could produce occasional vintage moments, and enough humility to realize he could have an impact on how younger teammates such as Trae Young carry themselves off the floor. Carter’s future in basketball is bright, as a coach, front office executive, or commentator. Carter gave the league fits and the fans thrill. Salute to Vince Carter.

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