LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — In the Los Angeles Lakers’ meal room — located down the hall from the court the team practiced on Wednesday — the television had been left on. The news anchor was dissecting a Kentucky grand jury’s decision not to prosecute any of the officers involved in the death of Breonna Taylor.
In the ballroom-turned-practice-facility around the corner, the Lakers were finishing up the day’s workout. LeBron James, sitting off to the side of the court eating a sandwich, discussed the decision with longtime friend Randy Mims and shook his head.
Lakers players, planning for a light practice after they lost Game 3 of the Western Conference finals to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, had their phones pinged by James earlier that afternoon, prepping them for the news.
“Bron texted the group chat that there might be an announcement made,” Lakers guard Danny Green said. “Nobody was really happy about it. It was disappointing. In a sense, something was done, but it wasn’t enough. Most guys felt it was definitely not enough. … It’s a tough one. It’s a tough one.”
On Wednesday, a grand jury in Louisville indicted one police officer — Brett Hankison — for shooting through the walls and into neighboring apartments. Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment in connection to the police raid that resulted in the death of Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, on the night of March 13.
James, who did not speak to reporters following Wednesday’s practice, later tweeted that he has “been lost for words today.”
“I’m devastated, hurt, sad, mad!” James wrote on Twitter. “We want Justice for Breonna yet justice was met for her neighbors apartment walls and not her beautiful life.
“Was I surprised at the verdict. Absolutely not but damnit I was & still am hurt and heavy hearted! I send my love to Breonna mother, family and friends! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!!”
Like many Americans, NBA players have been anticipating a decision in this case for months. Calls for justice for Taylor — and for the police officers involved in her death to be held accountable in court — have been constant from players in the bubble in Orlando, Florida.
In the early days of the season restart, several players — including Lakers guard Alex Caruso and Nuggets forward Jerami Grant — dedicated entire interview sessions to discussing only Taylor.
NBA teams began to advocate for victims of police brutality in their own cities. Nearly a month ago, games in the bubble came to a halt after the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to play their first-round game against the Orlando Magic as the team reeled from the shooting of Jacob Blake — a Black man — by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Green, who has talked about Taylor’s case to begin every one of his media sessions since July, lamented the fact that the league’s players haven’t come together since an “all hands on deck” meeting in August in response to the Bucks’ decision.
“We’re still trying to make the proper steps,” Green said. “We haven’t even gotten the chance to reconvene. We need more time as a group — not just as our team but as everyone in the bubble and outside the bubble — to figure out how we can continue to get progress in these certain aspects, in these certain categories, in these certain communities, specifically with what happened today wasn’t enough, we felt, and I’m sure most people around the country felt the same.”
Caruso, a white player who has chosen to wear the message “Black Lives Matter” on the back of his uniform, pointed out that for as much attention as the Taylor case is receiving, racial inequity remains pervasive.
“This one case, I think, is the focal point right now, but even since then, there’s been more Black innocent people that have been killed,” Caruso said. “You know, it’s just going to be a long journey. Steps like this are hopefully small steps in the right direction, but there’s still such a long way to go.”
The timing of Nuggets practice Wednesday also coincided with the grand jury’s decision becoming public. Denver coach Michael Malone offered the floor to Grant to address the team, which Grant declined because the news was so fresh.
“He chose not to, which I truly understood,” Malone said. “I at least wanted to give him, before we got into basketball, the option to do so because I know it’s something that he’s been carrying in his heart throughout this process.”
Malone has consistently worn a black T-shirt with the words “Justice for Elijah McClain” printed on the front in white letters to news conferences in Orlando, Florida. McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, was walking home from a convenience store last summer when police officers in Aurora, Colorado, put him in a chokehold, causing him to become unresponsive. McClain was injected with ketamine when paramedics arrived, which caused him to go into cardiac arrest, and he died a few days later.
“I know we’ve been using our platform down here to try to bring about education and a voice in a lot of players on our team, especially also spoken out on justice for Breonna Taylor,” Malone said. “We have not gotten that justice. That’s a shame. Hopefully that will change at some point.”
Speaking to reporters before Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called Wednesday’s outcome “not justice.” He added that the $12 million civil settlement that the city of Louisville reached with Taylor’s family last week “looks like such a ridiculously empty payoff.”
“This has all been about justice,” Spoelstra said, referring to the pushes players and coaches have made for law enforcement to be held accountable. “And it was not served.”
His Celtics counterpart, Brad Stevens, described the news as “demoralizing,” telling reporters, “To have 15 rounds of gunfire fired, five of which hit her, and there to be wanton endangerment — which I didn’t know existed before today — as the charge … it’s tough.
“At the end of the day, there’s been a call across the country, rightfully so, for more transparency, more accountability and just a better community relationship. And obviously, this feels like a setback to that.”
Asked for his thoughts on the ruling following Wednesday’s Game 4, Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said he “wasn’t surprised,” citing longstanding societal structures.
“I think that this society, in the way it was built and the way … its intentions were never to protect and serve people of color, initially,” Brown said. “When they were gearing for what was about to happen, I knew the wrong decision was probably being made, but it doesn’t surprise me. It doesn’t surprise me at all. Until we dismantle, recreate or change the system that we have, we’re going to still have victims like Breonna Taylor and others that fall victim to oppression.”
Heat forward Bam Adebayo said that processing the news while preparing for a game meant he “just had to channel my anger toward the game.”
“It’s crazy that somebody killed somebody, and he gets the same charge as somebody that uses an unauthorized credit card,” Adebayo said. “I don’t think people really understand: She’s dead. Somebody killed her. At the end of the day, you need justice for that.