August 30, 2020 

Social justice remains at forefront for Atlanta

The Dream lost to the Lynx on Friday, but that wasn't the most important thing on the minds of the players

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Courtney Williams #10 of the Atlanta Dream shoots theball against the Minnesota Lynx on August 28, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Centerin Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

There was a basketball game Friday night. Minnesota beat Atlanta, 88-79, in the two teams’ second meeting in five days.

It was also the first basketball game since Tuesday night in the WNBA, after the players came together Wednesday and decided not to play in Wednesday night’s slate of games. They wanted to stand in solidarity with the NBA and take a moment to reflect and acknowledge the racial injustice in America, particularly the recent shooting of Jacob Blake.

Thursday, the players decided to take another day to reflect and refocus on their social justice plans for the season. But Friday, they played.

As the Lynx and the Dream took the court, it felt like any other game. A casual observer wouldn’t know it was the first game since Tuesday or anything the WNBA players have been discussing and going through in the last 48+ hours.

Minnesota took the lead early, and despite Atlanta battling back to get things close, the Lynx kept pulling away and ended up with the win. It was, in short, an unremarkable game.

What came after was the remarkable part.

Dream coach Nicki Collen was asked just one question about the actual game in her postgame media availability. The two players made available, Blake Dietrick and Betnijah Laney, were only asked about playing basketball in the context of what it felt like to be back on the court after the events of the previous few days.

“It’s so much bigger than professional sports,” Collen said. “I think the solidarity is the solidarity from coast to coast in this country. As we say, sea to shining sea. This is a big deal. I think what we’re trying to say is Black lives matter and when you say all lives matter, then Black lives have to matter. I think it’s continuing to talk about that message. Equality means equality, and is that too much to ask for?”

Collen has often referred to basketball as a safe space for her team and says she tries to make being on the court a sanctuary, particularly while in the bubble in Florida. But as social justice movements around the country intensify, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep the focus on basketball.

Elizabeth Williams is a relentlessly efficient finisher around the rim. Friday, she went 6-of-13 with most of those misses coming two feet or less from the basket.

“I honestly think part of why Elizabeth Williams missed some layups today is this has been heavy,” Collen said. “She’s on the executive committee. She’s had to speak for her teammates. She’s had to speak for all 144 players in this league. I just think it’s wearing on them. It’s emotional. It’s a lot. As teams were reflecting over the last two days and almost having a day off, she was on TV and she was on this and she was on that. I thought it showed tonight because this is a bigger issue than basketball.”

Added Laney: “The past couple of days, it’s been really heavy. I think that we needed the break that we had to just really reflect on everything that’s been going on. It’s just been crazy. But at the same time, this is our release from that but not entirely, because like I said, we’re able to go out there and have it on our shirts. Go out there and have it on the big screens. Go out there and have it on the court. The past few days have been a time to reflect and keep in mind everything that’s going on while we’re still playing basketball.”

When the players were making plans for the bubble and the 2020 season, they were clear about their intentions to make it a social justice focused season. But after arriving and diving into playing games every other day, the focus naturally slipped a little as basketball became all-consuming.

In the last couple of days, the players — the Atlanta Dream included — have refocused and plan to redouble their efforts to focus on social justice in the latter half of the season.

“I think we have a platform,” Dietrick said. “It might not be as big as the NBA, but we certainly have one and I think we need to use it. I think my job is to elevate the voices of Black and Brown women in this league and listen and learn and do my best to just understand and support my teammates any way that I can.”

“It’s very important,” Laney added. “That was one of the main reasons for us coming here. We came here so we could play and use our voice for the social injustices that are going on. That’s why we wear these T-shirts every game for warm ups. It’s always Black Lives Matter. We have it on the court. It’s important for us to be able to continue to use our voice, use our platform to make a stand. That’s what we’ve been doing.”

Written by Bailey Johnson

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