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Raptors understand through their diversity that change has to happen everywhere

Raptors understand through their diversity that change has to happen everywhere
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The Raptors will compete fiercely on the court to pursue their sporting goals because they know the unbridled joy a championship can bring. They won’t cheat the game, or themselves, or their fans, but there is so much more for the uniquely positioned franchise to do.

Here. There. Everywhere.

There is no team set up as well as the Raptors to carry the messages of social justice to a vast, global audience. Their tentacles reach from coast to coast in Canada, across the United States, to Spain and Congo, to Cameroon and Nigeria and Italy. Their responsibility is great.

They accept it. They welcome it.

“This is one thing I want people to understand: What is going on in the United States is what is going on everywhere,” Congo-born Serge Ibaka says. “Maybe in different ways. In the States, you can see what is happening directly, how police is killing somebody. But in the Congo, in Africa, in all the countries in Europe, it’s happening, too, in different ways.

“The fight we’re fighting here is bigger than the fight people are thinking because if we can win this fight here, we’re going to change a lot of things around the world.”

That is the most fascinating thing about this team, its players and coaches and senior management. Yes, there are other clubs in the NBA who have representation from around the world and a desire to fight injustice globally and not just in the United States, the flashpoint for the worldwide paradigm shift. But the Raptors are unrelenting not only in their messaging but in their actions; they reach back to their homelands with words and deeds and know better than most that the fights for equality are necessary everywhere.

“I mean obviously it’s a global issue because there’s problems everywhere in the world,” Pascal Siakam says. “And obviously it’s focused more on North America right now but social injustice happens everywhere. Maybe it doesn’t feel like racism where I’m from because we’re all Black, basically, but it’s tribalism between my tribe and your tribe, we don’t like each other or whatever.

“So I think there’s a lot of different issues that we can touch upon. We just want to make sure that we obviously keep the focus here but we also try to find ways to impact our own communities and our own countries because we have that diversity on our team.”

There are few Raptors more passionate about taking his message back to his roots than Ibaka, who was born in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. He will wear “Respectez Biso” on his jersey this week, a French dialectic translation of “Respect Us” that will resonate back home.

“Some of the things you see on social media can affect you directly, then what you don’t see … the things happening in East Congo,” he says. “You know how many women (are being) killed, raped, every day? We know why.

“The reason, that’s why we’re fighting this fight is because of those reasons. We need change everywhere. And it starts here, it starts with what we’re doing right now.”

Siakam spoke of learning about Jim Crow laws in the United States. Gasol said learning the history of Dr. Martin Luther King through the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis began his learning process, one he needs to extend globally now.

“It’s a worldwide issue, and we look at each society, each community, you can see the systemic racism that is there and I think it’s our responsibility, our duty, to hit it head on,” the Spanish centre says.

“There shouldn’t be anybody that shies away from that. I’ve lived on different levels in Europe; I’ve seen it with my own eyes. And it’s time to say enough is enough and we got to demand a change.”

The entire journey is not just about educating and teaching those they reach because of their athletic exploits. A common theme that has emerged these past months has been how the Raptors have learned about each other and discovered the issues teammates and coaches have lived with. It stiffens their resolve to reach as many people as possible.

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“I think the more I educate myself, the more I can speak on these issues that we see here,” Siakam says. “And I feel like it’s like that for a lot of people because we have people from different places. Obviously some of them lived in the U.S. so they’ve seen, but we also have people that lived in a different place in the world where there’s different problems.”

“We’ve got such a diverse organization,” head coach Nick Nurse says. “All I can say it gives me a better understanding, it brings me closer to (assistant coaches) Adrian Griffin and Big Cat (Toronto’s Jamaal Magloire), and hopefully me closer to them as well, just because we’ve been spending a lot of time talking about things that are of substance and that really matter.

“A lot of times we’re just talking hoops and other teams, whatever. This is substantial, these conversations. They’re good.”
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