When the NBA resumes the regular season later this month, several members of the Los Angeles Lakers will display social justice messages in place of their last names on the backs of their jerseys for the first four days of the league’s restart. Kyle Kuzma will not be among them.
“I just don’t believe you have to put something on the back of your jersey to make a statement. I do a lot for the city of Flint, (Michigan), inner-city L.A., a lot of social activism,” Kuzma said on his Zoom call with the media on Wednesday. “I just chose not to do it.”
Kuzma has been helping his hometown of Flint, and the city he works in (Los Angeles) since long before the social justice movement that has swept the United States over the last several months, in ways ranging from donating meals to seniors during the initial coronavirus outbreak, to working with youth foundations in both Los Angeles and Flint over the last several years, among many other efforts.
Kuzma has also said in the past that his Lakers teammate LeBron James has been a role model for his own philanthropic efforts, and he has similar reasons to James for leaving his name on the back of his jersey. Kuzma credited the NBA for continuing to push social justice messages, but like James, he didn’t like that the ones for players’ jerseys had to come from a list of pre-approved options.
“I just didn’t like how it wasn’t creative. If they would have allowed us to put something on the jersey that was more personal then I would have changed it, but I didn’t want to be generic and basic,” Kuzma said.
Kuzma doesn’t think jersey changes are enough, anyway. After his media availability was over, he made it clear that the one question I asked him about social justice (the only one he received during his availability on Wednesday) was not enough, taking to Twitter to ask the media for help in allowing players more time to spread their messages.
Media & players: We work hand n hand. We have platforms but help us out! Yes we know your job is to ask us about basketball questions. But if you guys believe in equality for all, let’s ask a few social injustice questions here n there. We’re all in this together— kuz (@kylekuzma) July 22, 2020
No because the moment you all want to hear is postgame so that’s when there needs to be social injustice conversation. If it was a separate presser no one would pay attention. https://t.co/2k0bPfmAVf— kuz (@kylekuzma) July 22, 2020
Kuzma’s teammate, Alex Caruso, attempted to do the same thing in his own way, spending his entire media availability on Wednesday answering all basketball questions by saying “We need justice for Breonna Taylor,” a cause Lakers center Dwight Howard and James, among others on the team, have championed.
I also asked Frank Vogel — who spoke alongside his coaching staff in a video from the Lakers saying that the conversation on systemic racism was not over — about how he and his coaches could continue that conversation, and he described some of the changes the Lakers are making as they seek to become an actively anti-racist entity.
“Our whole organization has really been aggressive with action items. I think most notable, hiring Dr. Karida Brown as an educator to come in and assess our organization, and just make sure that we’re creating the right change within our own organization,” Vogel said. “I think this is where this problem needs to be tackled more than anywhere, is for everyone across the country to look within. How are their behaviors and viewpoints, and how can they change?
“We want to be very vocal on it. I know we’re doing some things with the (NBA) Coaches Association as well to keep the conversation going because we fully, fully, fully support the Black Lives Matter movement,” Vogel continued. “We as a country have never been in a (better) position of strength to affect change than we’re in right now, so it’s a critical time for sure.”
Hopefully stories like this are a start of the conversation Kuzma and the rest of the Lakers are looking for, but it’s also clear that this is far from the only way that they will be speaking out during the NBA’s resumption. They just don’t necessarily need a jersey change to do so.