Nearly three weeks later, the footage still haunts Minnesota Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders. And why shouldn’t it?
A white Minneapolis police officer named Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who repeatedly warned he could not breathe. Nearly nine minutes later, Floyd died. This represented a string of incidents involving a police officer killing an innocent and non-threatening black person. This moment also highlighted the country’s ongoing struggles with eradicating racial inequality.
"You’re watching it and you get sick to your stomach as you watch a knee on another man’s neck," Saunders said in a conference call this week. "Then you see that on the cop car and you recognize the uniforms look familiar and it’s Minneapolis PD. That hurts."
Through that hurt, the Timberwolves have dealt with a flood of emotions. Saunders, who is white, noted "there is obvious anger, but also motivation" among the team’s players, coaches and staff over Floyd’s death, as well as the country’s issues with racial inequality. Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas, who is the NBA’s lone Latino in that position, also observed "there is a spirit of humility and compassion" with ongoing talks and listening sessions both internally and in the community.
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"We’re at the epicenter of it here in Minneapolis," Rosas said in a conference call this week. "We really believe as an organization that the league and the country look to us to see how we’re going to respond."
The Timberwolves have responded in different ways.
First, the team immediately hosted Zoom meetings and conference calls for both group and individual discussions. They invited their predominately black roster to express their thoughts about the news and share any of their own stories about racism they have faced. Same thing with Minnesota assistant coaches David Vanterpool and Kevin Burleson. The Timberwolves pride themselves on their diversity among the coaching staff, front office and other staff members, but they remained aware of their own limitations because of the lacking life experience.
"We don’t have all the answers," Rosas said. "In a lot of ways, we’re learning more than we’re guiding."
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