The Timberwolves are under pressure. Not the kind that comes with winning playoff games. Or even the kind they may feel to hang on to this year’s draft pick. But imagine being a young African-American male playing professional basketball for a team in the city that is the epicenter of two high-profile criminal cases, where police are accused of crimes ranging from second-degree manslaughter to second-degree murder of two unarmed Black men.
George Floyd dying beneath the knee of Derek Chauvin ignited protests worldwide. Chauvin is currently on trial in downtown Minneapolis, with closing arguments beginning Monday morning. Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie were both standing with Stephen Jackson, a lifelong friend of Floyd’s, when Jackson came to town to hold a press conference to express his frustration and grief about the circumstances surrounding the death of his friend.
Towns and Okogie’s presence at that presser was a clear indication of where we are at this period of time in America. It’s not unprecedented for an actor, musician, or professional athlete to use his or her platform in support of a cause near and dear to them. In this case, the presence of KAT and Okogie was consistent with the support fellow athletes often show each other during times of personal crisis. Having this all happen in Minneapolis means it also became a crisis for the local sports teams.
As fans, it can be easy to forget the human element when cheering for our favorite players. We love our teams, and we want them to win. The everyday goings-on in the lives of players seldom crosses our minds. I think it’s safe to say we save most of our concern for our friends, co-workers, and loved ones. So it’s natural that we, as spectators, focus primarily on the outcomes of games. After all, it’s the truest measuring stick. This is perfectly understandable — we’re fans.
One of the best pieces of performance advice I ever got was from the director of a play I’d been cast in, who said that the people who show up to see the play don’t care about how bad your day went. They don’t care if your rent is due, your babysitter was late, or your car was repossessed. They’ve spent their hard-earned money and expect a great show. That’s all there is to it. Message sent — and received. But the recent events in south Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center have created negative energy that is palpable. The air is thick with apprehension as we all anxiously anticipate the verdict on officer Derek Chauvin and the upcoming trial of former Brooklyn Center officer Kim Potter.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that things are a bit on edge here in the Twin Cities. Once again, curfews have been issued. Protests persist because of police misconduct. Businesses are boarded up, and the streets are lined with the National Guard. This city is hanging by a thread. As a Black man with a son, the deaths of George Floyd and Daunte Wright create a very specific trauma. I have, once again, found sleep difficult to come by and work even harder to focus on. It’s not easy shaking that sinking feeling, wondering what happens if justice is not served.
This brings me to Anthony Edwards and his easy effervescence. I wonder what is going through his mind? I worry that his smile will soon turn to anger and mistrust. I see these young men, and I marvel at their ability to process their way through all of this and perform in these intense and pressurized times.