Josh Okogie has been among the most vocal Minnesota Timberwolves players over the past year, using his platform to try to bring awareness to racial injustice and police brutality while trying to help create change through several different avenues.
But in the midst of the Derrick Chauvin trial, another Black man — Daunte Wright — was killed by police in the metro Sunday. So Okogie couldn’t help but feel that, despite his best efforts, nothing has changed.
“I think for me, that’s the most difficult part,” the guard said after Minnesota’s 127-97 loss to Brooklyn on Tuesday at Target Center. “Right now for me, I’m just trying to see what avenues that I can do to be more effective, you know what I’m saying? It’s just hard. What do you do to fix this? I mean, obviously like it just doesn’t stop, so what can we do to fix this? Are we protesting? I’m pretty sure we’re going to keep protesting. We’ve done everything you could possibly do. Obviously we can’t stop now, but I just try to figure out something else that I can do to play my part and be more effective in making change.”
Similar thoughts were likely on the minds of many players Tuesday at Target Center. There was a pregame moment of silence for Wright, with an image of the 20-year-old featured on the jumbotron. Players from both Brooklyn and Minnesota wore shirts in warmups that read “With Liberty and Justice FOR ALL.”
As for the actual game, the Wolves trailed by as many as 45 points and were never in the contest.
“I think, overall, we were just flat,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said.
Understandably so. The same team spent Monday having conversations about Sunday’s killing by gunfire.
“Guys didn’t want to leave,” Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said. “They wanted to stay around each other, talk through things.”
These are difficult times for everyone. For the Wolves, that’s true for a number of reasons. Karl-Anthony Towns missed Tuesday’s game, spending time with his family on the one-year anniversary of his mother Jackie’s death. That impacted the entire team. And now the players were coming to terms with another Black man killed by police in the community they now call home.
“You almost feel like a boxer in the 11th, 12th round with these things happening over and over again and for our organization at all levels,” Rosas said. “Players, staff, coaches, front office. We live here. This is our community. To be experiencing this again in a middle of a trial is something that’s very emotional and overwhelming.”
Okogie has spent the last year educating himself on police protocols and took issue with a number of facets of Sunday’s incident. He doesn’t understand how an unarmed person is killed by firearms. He doesn’t think it should be at the hands of the police to determine whether or not someone lives or dies.
“It’s definitely a problem, and we have to hold people accountable, like for real though,” Okogie said. “I don’t want this to go where it’s like, ‘OK, it’s just another episode. Yeah, we’re going to say let’s hold people accountable, then we’ll wait until this dies down, then everybody is going to forget about it.’ We have to keep having this conversation. Because it’s happening too frequently that a young, 20-year-old kid gets killed not too far from where they’re having a trial for another Black man getting killed. It shouldn’t be that frequent where somebody gets killed through the same thing that somebody else is on trial for doing. That just doesn’t make any sense.”
Even if Wright was in the wrong, Okogie said, the price for being so cannot be your life. And the guard isn’t buying the “bad apple” argument, either. He cited Chris Rock’s standup special “Tamborine,” in which the comedian notes some professions can’t afford to have bad apples.
From pilots to surgeons to police officers, Okogie believes that to be true.
“Because it’s people’s livelihoods that are at stake,” he said. “It’s just so sad. It’s really so sad, and it’s heartbreaking that it happens in the community that I’m playing in, because it could be anybody. I’m not far removed from it. I have a family — little brother, older brothers, older sister — they’re not far removed from it, and it’s just sickening, it’s sad, it’s disgusting, and it just has to stop.”
Rosas said the Wolves and Lynx will keep pushing forward as an organization. It’s spent the last year driving for change, and will continue to do whatever it can to positively impact the community, as players seek to do the same.
“I have a platform right here to bring awareness to it. There’s nothing we can do from this conversation right now,” D’Angelo Russell said. “The biggest thing is bringing awareness and then actually going out and doing things about it. So that’s all I really have to say.”
Players weren’t sure if it was or wasn’t the proper decision to return to play Tuesday. The team’s Twitter account didn’t post during the game, so as to keep as much attention as possible on more important issues.
But Finch thought it was important to return to action. Amid everything, he thinks it’s important to establish as much normalcy as possible at the moment.
He then gave a line that applied not only to his team, but the world.
“Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be better,” he said, “because today is out of the way.”