For Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, it was a watershed moment.
Watching the video of George Floyd with a policeman’s knee on his neck. Seeing how the city of Minneapolis, the state, the nation, the world, reacted to his death. Feeling the energy of the protests that ensued.
“When this happened,” Reeve said, “if it didn’t affect you in a negative way, you don’t have a pulse, you don’t have a heart.”
On a Zoom conference call with her players and coaches, everyone agreed: On the court the Lynx will play to win. Off the court they’ll work for change, together. The system needs changing.
Reeve and her players are still talking about how best to keep this issue at the forefront and to change the status quo. The Lynx and Wolves partnering with the Minneapolis Foundation was a first step; Reeve and Wolves coach Ryan Saunders will serve on one of two advisory committees with the foundation.
“We won’t let the conversation die,” Reeve said. “We will do our part to see that systemic racism, particularly with the police, remains a topic of conversation until it leads to meaningful change.”
Just how far the Lynx will take that mission remains to be seen, but they will be talking about social justice and backing it up with action. It’s clear Reeve and her players don’t think basketball is more important than the issues — with the culture of policing at the top of that list.
“Thankfully it’s being recorded now,” Reeve said of videos capturing police using excessive force. “Those who didn’t believe it before, now you have no choice but to believe. So this will be our approach.’’
Reeve said the footage of Floyd’s death “took me right back to that morning in Connecticut.”
That was 2016, and the news Philando Castile had been shot during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights. The day before, outside a store in Baton Rouge, La., that was close to where former Lynx star Seimone Augustus grew up, Alton Sterling had been shot by police.
Back in 2016, after the morning shootaround, Reeve asked captains Augustus, Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson and Lindsay Whalen what they wanted to do.
Two days later, at a home game against Dallas at Target Center, the Lynx captains donned T-shirts for a pregame news conference.
“Change starts with us,” the T-shirts said. “Justice and Accountability.” On the back were Sterling and Castile’s names along with the emblem of the Dallas Police Department, whose members had been ambushed that week. And: “Black Lives Matter.” Lynx players wore the T-shirts during warmups.
There was pushback then, when four off-duty police officers walked out of the arena. At the time Reeve felt it was the right thing to do, and the players appreciated a coach who cared about their feelings.
“It came from our hearts being broken,” Moore said in 2017, recalling the event. “And she let us focus on it. She let us be human.”
As Reeve noted this week, it was a commitment to this cause that caused Moore to leave the game. She is about to enter her second year of sabbatical, having spent much of that time working for the release of Jonathan Irons, a Missouri man she and others feel was wrongfully convicted and jailed for burglary and assault more than two decades ago.
Whalen has retired and become the coach of the Gophers women’s basketball team. Augustus signed with Los Angeles during the offseason. Brunson is now one of Reeve’s assistant coaches.
Lasting change needed
What strikes Reeve now is how little things have changed when it comes, as she said, to police reform and a two-tiered justice system.
How the team had taken a stand, then stopped talking about Castile. Everyone moved on, Reeve said, but nothing changed.
Not this time. This time around the Lynx don’t want this issue to fade away with time. There likely will be some pushback this time around, too.
Reeve is OK with that.
The WNBA appears to be closing in on a shortened season that could start in late July, with playoffs carrying into October, with a potential base at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
One of the benefits of the WNBA and NBA potentially coming together in one place for the season would be the opportunity for players from around the league to talk and strategize on how best to deliver their message.
“This is a tipping point in our society,” Reeve said. “We feel making sure it tips in the right direction, finally, after hundreds of years in our country, is important.”