Former NBA star and TNT analyst Chris Webber delivered an emotional speech Wednesday in support of NBA players who refused to take the court in their playoff games that night.
The five-time All Star was scheduled to commentate on one of Wednesday night's NBA playoff games from the Orlando bubble when all three basketball matchups were postponed in protest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Speaking on the network's pregame show "Inside the NBA," which went live despite the cancellations, Webber applauded the players using their platform — and the NBA playoffs — to draw attention to social justice reform. He fought back tears as he spoke candidly about the pain in the Black community, frustrated by decades of protests and calls for justice that are repeatedly ignored.
"We know that there's been a million marches, and nothing will change tomorrow," Webber said. "We know 'Vote.' We keep hearing 'Vote, everybody vote.' But I'm here to speak for those that are always marginalized. Those that live in these neighborhoods where we preach and tell them to vote and walk away."
Webber lamented that while it's easy to be discouraged in the fight for racial justice when progress is slow, he urged players and young people to never give up the fight.
“If Martin Luther King got shot, and risked his life, Medgar Evers, and we’ve seen this in all of our heroes constantly taken down. We understand that it’s not gonna end, but that does not mean young men that you don’t do anything," Webber said. "Don’t listen to these people telling you don’t do anything because it’s not gonna end right away. You are starting something for the next generation and the next generation to take over.”
Webber emphasized not knowing what the next steps are or should be and noted that what's important in this moment is the current step taken by the players and the league have put the focus squarely on social justice reform in protest of the shooting of Blake, a Black man, by Kenosha police, while three of his children in his car looked on.
"I don’t know the next steps," Webber said. "I don’t really care what the next steps are because the first steps are to garner attention, and they have everybody’s attention around the world right now. Then leadership and others will get together and decide the next steps."
Webber's comments followed another raw moment in the show. Former NBA player and longtime TNT analyst Kenny Smith walked off the "Inside the NBA" set just moments after the broadcast began.
“I think the biggest thing now — as a Black man and a former player — I think it’s best for me to not be here tonight,” Smith said, before taking off his microphone and leaving his chair.
Another NBA legend on the show, Charles Barkley, who once defiantly declared that he was not a role model and kids should be taught to emulate their parents, said it was "appropriate" for the Bucks to cancel their game and supported the decision by the rest of league to follow suit. Shaquille O'Neal did, too.
“November is coming up,” O’Neal said. “Make sure you get a new D.A. Make sure you get a new chief of police. Make sure you get a new mayor. Make sure you get a new president. Make sure you get a new sheriff. It’s in our hands. It’s always been in our hands.”
Later Thursday, the NBA’s board of governors will meet and likely address whether the playoff games scheduled for the night will be played. The players also will meet separately to decide how long the stoppage lasts.