The Lakers re-open their season on Thursday with a nationally televised matchup against the Clippers, their first time on the floor for an official game since March 10, the day before the NBA season was put on hold because of the spread of COVID-19. According to Kyle Kuzma, when the national anthem plays before the game, the Lakers—and maybe all NBA teams—could take the opportunity to make a statement.
Asked if there could be some “surprises” during the anthem on Thursday, especially after WNBA players walked off the court during the anthem ahead of their season opener, Kuzma took a deep breath and said, “Yeah, I mean, I think that’s why we are here.”
That could mean offending some people. Kuzma hopes that is not the case. “The biggest misconception is people think you’re disrespecting the flag by doing things like kneeling or whatever any team decides to do,” he said. “It’s not about disrespecting the flag, it’s about us not standing as society and people in the society for social injustice. That’s what it’s for. If you don’t see that, I mean, I don’t know how you don’t see that.”
Kuzma was speaking during the Lakers’ postgame news conference following the team’s second scrimmage, a win over the Magic at the HP Field House on the Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World in Orlando. It was a sterling performance for him—10-for-13 shooting from the field with 25 points, making five of the seven 3-pointers he attempted.
But when addressing reporters, Kuzma only answered a few questions about the game itself. Most of the questions focused on issues of social justice, something Kuzma addressed in a tweet earlier in the week, when he suggested that media members, “ask a few social injustice questions here n there.”
Kuzma: ‘This is One of the Biggest Times in Our Lifetimes’
Kuzma was asked about the importance of NBA players addressing issues of social injustice at a time when those players will be garnering an extraordinary level of attention nationally and globally. He said he did not necessarily agree with the notion of players only answering questions with social justice catchphrases, as many players did by repeating, “Justice for Breonna Taylor,” earlier in the week.
“If we are playing games and we’re just asking all sport-related questions then, we’re not going to get anywhere,” Kuzma said. “Because you’re going to have players say, ‘I just want to stick to this topic,’ and that’s not right. We should talk about both.”
One reason NBA players agreed to return to action at a time when COVID-19 and social justice issues are roiling the country was that they felt their voices could be useful in the coming weeks and months. Kuzma said now is the time to stick to that idea:
This is one of the biggest times in our lifetimes especially for us because if you think about it, the only two things that I feel like the country are really paying attention to—really three things—are what the president says, COVID and the NBA bubble. With those three things, we have a huge impact and platform to really hold people accountable. That’s the biggest thing because a lot of times in this country in our society in the past, people haven’t been held accountable and now, with our platforms, it allows us to speak and speak on issues that are super-important and need to have justice.
COVID-19 Hiatus Gives Kuzma a Fresh Start
Kuzma did talk basketball and, without question, his performance in the Saturday scrimmage was a welcome sight for Lakers fans. Kuzma is the Lakers’ third-leading scorer but struggled with his shot for much of the year and was the subject of trade rumors before the hiatus went into effect.
The four months off benefited him, Kuzma said, because he was able to teak his shot and rest his body. Kuzma was slated to play for Team USA in the World Cup last summer but suffered an ankle injury in late August, forcing him to drop out. He missed Lakers training camp and the first four games of the season.
“[The hiatus] was super-important because after USA, I couldn’t be on the court for two, like two-and-a-half months,” Kuzma said. “I had to just sit at home, shoot from a chair. So I wasn’t really able to play right away. Especially lifting weights, I couldn’t really bear any weights lower body-wise to get ready for the season. So, past four months been good for me getting in the gym and lifting heavy and getting ready. Having a full training camp definitely helped.”