MIAMI — Whatever the Detroit Pistons decide to do when it comes to protests that call for societal change this season, they’ll have the support of coach Stan Van Gundy.
He’s urging them to make an impact.
As NBA teams began gathering Friday to start training camps — three teams hold their first practices Saturday, while 27 others get going in the coming days — an issue each is addressing is how players and coaches can help create substantive change in cities across the country. The NBA and the players’ union urged teams this week to develop ideas in a memo this week.
“No one can be happy with what’s going on right now,” Van Gundy said Friday. “I like what (Golden State coach) Steve Kerr said. Wherever you are on the political spectrum, I don’t think a thinking person can say, ‘This isn’t a problem.’ I mean, we’re shooting unarmed people — and you’ve got to think largely, they are seen as threats largely because of their race. I mean, it’s hard to fathom.”
Similar sentiments have been expressed around the league for months, as the list of U.S. cities dealing with protests —including Baltimore, Milwaukee, Chicago, New York, Ferguson, Missouri and now Tulsa, Oklahoma and Charlotte — over the death of black men at the hands of police.
Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul talked openly about it in July, standing side-by-side on television. At media days Friday in Oklahoma City, Houston and New Orleans, it was a major topic. Around the rest of the league, it’ll be the same Monday.
In a league where about 75 percent of the players are black and some have enormous social-media followings, plenty of eyes will be on the NBA to see what it does after NFL players and some athletes from other sports have taken to kneeling during national anthems or raising a fist in an effort to spark discussion about race relations and other matters.
“We’re not looking forward to protesting stuff,” New Orleans’ Quincy Pondexter said. “We’re looking forward to solutions.”
The NBA has a rule saying players and staff must stand for the playing of the national anthem, and 20 years ago Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended for a game for refusing to stand for the anthem. Abdul-Rauf, who did not respond to interview requests this week, said then that he felt the flag was a symbol of oppression.
Despite that rule, which the NBA did not mention in its memo to teams, Houston’s James Harden said protests on NBA courts are possible.
The Rockets All-Star called the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to kneel or sit during the anthem “a powerful statement.”
“He’s standing up for what he believes in,” Harden said. “Devastating that all these people are just dying, dying for no reason. Families are grieving, just a tough situation, especially from men and women who are supposed to be protecting us. But each individual has their own beliefs on how they go about handling it and you’ve got to respect it.”
Harden said Rockets players will decide what to do individually. New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry wants the Pelicans to have a unified approach, a stance echoed by New York Knicks President Phil Jackson.
“We want them to do something that they all feel genuine about,” Jackson said.
New Orleans center Anthony Davis said seeing frustration and violence in recent months has prompted him to become even more community-minded, with hopes that actions go deeper than any words could.
“We have the power to do stuff other people can’t,” Davis said. “So I think we have to use that.”
For Van Gundy, it goes much deeper than just reacting to shootings.
He spoke at length about urging the Pistons to vote and how the organization responded to a water crisis in Flint, Michigan. He also talked about how Pistons forward Marcus Morris had a 6-year-old cousin injured by gunfire this summer; the boy survived, even though the vehicle he was in was caught in a flurry of crossfire.
Issues like those are why Van Gundy said the question of whether NBA players will kneel for the anthem is far less important than many might suggest.
“There’s so much to focus on,” Van Gundy said. “And I think it’s great that we have players that want to be part of that conversation, and a lot of players that want to go beyond the conversation and be part of the solution.”
Finding that solution won’t be easy.
“I don’t have an answer. Nobody has an answer,” Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook said. “If that was the case, we would have fixed it.”
AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney in New York and AP Sports Writers Noah Trister in Auburn Hills, Michigan, Kristie Rieken in Houston, Cliff Brunt in Oklahoma City and Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.