The NBA’s return to games Wednesday for the first time during the pandemic means players have another platform to bring attention to racial inequality and social injustice.
Former Gophers guard and Los Angeles Clippers rookie Amir Coffey has a pulse on what his teammates could do to raise awareness for change. He's with the Clippers in the bubble in Orlando this week.
There will be 22 teams participating in the NBA’s restart, which includes three inter-squad scrimmages for each before the games resume July 30.
The Clippers won their opening scrimmage 99-90 Wednesday afternoon vs. the Orlando Magic. Coffey had six points, three assists, two rebounds, two steals and a block in 22 minutes off the bench.
“I think we have a pretty good spotlight here,” Coffey said during a recent video conference call from Orlando. “The NBA is working with the players and just keeping the dialogue open, asking what we can do, asking what we want to happen. They're definitely working with us on it.”
The league and its players decided that Black Lives Matter would be painted on the main court where games are played in Orlando.
Coffey said he knows some Clippers are going to have messages on their jerseys to continue the social justice conversation that was ignited worldwide after George Floyd’s murder in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.
“I think at that point people were fed up,” Coffey said the reaction since Floyd. “It kind of just sparked the outrage at that point in time. … Every life lost that's happened thus far has been the same. There's been an outpouring for everybody. This one was just nationwide outcry, and it was just the media covered it more than any of the other ones.”
Before COVID-19 concerns ended the season prematurely in March, the Clippers thought highly enough of Coffey to consider him on their playoff roster. Now that league play has restarted, the 6-foot-7 guard from Hopkins was among the players coach Doc Rivers decided to bring to the bubble.
On a two-way contract, Coffey averaged 16 points with the team’s G League affiliate. He also played 13 games in the NBA, most notably scoring a season-high 10 points Feb. 9 against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 25 minutes. One of the Clippers’ road games in February was back home vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“It was cool,” Coffey told the Star Tribune earlier this year. “I got hurt at the beginning of the season with an ankle sprain, so I was out for a little bit. Just coming back and getting my stride and playing again was fun.”
As the Gophers’ top scorer his junior season in 2018-19, Coffey carried them to the NCAA tournament offensively. He has worked to become even more effective on the other side of the ball at the next level. He understands his role when called upon.
“Just bring energy and hustle, especially on the defensive side,” Coffey said. “We have multiple scorers. We have Paul George. We have Kawhi Leonard. We have Lou [Williams] and Montrez [Harrell]. We have plenty of guys who can score the ball. So, when I go in, I try to facilitate, play hard and just lock in on the defensive end. I take that side personal. And I do all the other things like rebounding, screening and doing different things I can make an impact on.”
His all-around game is improving. And physically, Coffey has grown into his body even more.
“Offensively, I would say my three-point shooting percentages have gone up,” he said. “I feel a lot stronger than when I first came in. That gives me a little bit of an extra push on offense to make plays. Otherwise, I try to improve all the other aspects of my game.”
Despite not being drafted, Coffey is in a better position than many rookies who were selected last summer. He is playing for an organization that is invested in his development.
Gophers fans should get more chances to watch as Coffey continues to get opportunities to showcase his talents as the NBA resumes.