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Lakers trying not to lose sight of social justice ‘mission’ during NBA playoffs

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The Lakers stayed in Orlando to try and make a difference.

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Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Five Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

On Saturday night, the Los Angeles Lakers closed out their first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers, something they had hoped to do on Wednesday. However, while the Lakers were going through their respective pregame rituals on Wednesday, they received some news.

“I was in the middle of my pregame nap, getting ready to play, and I heard guys banging on the door,” Anthony Davis said. “I didn’t know what was going on until ... even going to the meeting, I was still kind of asleep, unaware of everything.”

The news that Davis woke up to was that the Milwaukee Bucks abruptly decided to sit out of their game against the Orlando Magic as a response to the police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“When we saw that, ‘Bron called a meeting and brought everybody down and just kind of talked about what would be our plan,” Davis said. “Obviously, we’re going to stick with our league and other teams and stay as a brotherhood and, ultimately, we decided that we wasn’t going to play either, and that was pretty much it for that day, and then we had a meeting that next morning to figure out the plan for the rest of the time here.”

For LeBron James, that next step was crucial.

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Five Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The Lakers standing in solidarity with their peers was the easy part — figuring where to go from there was the hard part, and they realized just how hard it was in the three days that they didn’t play.

While some players wanted to stay in Orlando and continue using their platform to draw attention to the problem of racial injustice and police brutality in the United States, others felt like what they were doing wasn’t enough and that they could do more at home.

And for a moment, going home seemed like a real possibility for the players.

“Emotions were very high,” Davis said. “The process was up and down. I didn’t think no one really expected to play after seeing Milwaukee.”

But after a productive meeting between players and team owners, the players decided to stay in Orlando and use their national platform to get their message out. However, more of the same isn’t going to be sufficient for the players — they want to see a more concerted effort from their teams. And while the Lakers are optimistic after their conversations with team owners, they’re not afraid to use their power again.

“They were very candid,” James said of the owners. “We were very candid what we believe continues to move the needle in our respective cities, in our communities, and how important this moment is. All you can do is give me and give us your word. I’m going to hold that with the utmost respect. If that word that you’ve given me is not fulfilled, then we’ll tackle that in the moment.”

“We do have the leverage,” Davis added. “After the meeting, we’re confident they will [keep their word]. Conversations went well. And if they don’t, we won’t play again. It’s as simple as that. But I have to say, it was very powerful, impactful meetings, and I think the owners will.”

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Five Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The first major action team owners have taken is committing to turn their arenas into vote centers for the upcoming Presidential General Election. On Saturday, the Lakers, Staples Center, AEG and the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk announced that Staples Center will serve as a vote center. The Steve Ballmer-owned Forum will also serve as a vote center.

Both the Lakers and Clippers are among the favorites to win the NBA championship this season, which is why it was so significant that they were reportedly among the first teams to vote against finishing the season. That’s because they know they have the opportunity to accomplish something bigger than basketball with the platforms they have, and as difficult as Wednesday was for everyone involved, it was a chance for them to refocus.

“We came down here for a mission and basketball was the vehicle, but we had a mission and we wanted to continue that,” James said. “We believe that mission was kind of lost in translation, especially once the playoffs started. We were playing every other day but there was a game on every single day

“When we’re trying to create change we can’t lose sight of what the main thing is and why we came down here. Yes, we’ve been using our voice. Yes, we’ve been using our platform and trying to create change, but there’s an opportunity to sometimes take a deep breath and that was the moment. That was the moment, through the whole league not only the players but the coaches and the owners, you guys everybody had a chance just to exhale and say ‘what are we really doing?’”

The truth is that they won’t know the answer to that question right away, but they’re hopeful that, with time, the steps they’re taking will lead to meaningful change.

“Hopefully, the initiatives that we came together that we partnered with, the voting and the sites and the arenas and things of that nature. Hopefully, years on down the line, America is in a better place that you can look back to this moment and be like that was one of the catapults that kind of got it going.”

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.