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Five thoughts on Bubble Life: Powell and Hollis-Jefferson on their jersey messages

Yesterday’s Zoom calls continued the discussion on anti-racism and which messages the Raptors would be wearing on their jerseys.

2020 NBA Restart - All Access Practice Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The Raptors continue to work hard in practice in Orlando, and then unwind by... talking to the media! It’s probably not their favourite thing, but hey, by all accounts they have loads of free time, so what’s five minutes for some sportswriters back in Toronto!

Let’s break down what the team had to say after Thursday’s practice:

1. Norman Powell: “I was disappointed in the options that were given to us”

That’s Norman Powell speaking of the NBA and NBPA’s decision to only allow a couple dozen pre-approved statements on the back of the players’ jerseys. He should be disappointed, and to be honest, I can’t believe the NBA didn’t backtrack on this after the derision the pre-approved statements received upon their announcement. Norm went on, “We were excited by the opportunity to change our last names and put a quote there that really represents where we stand and how we feel, and I was really upset in how we’re so limited. I felt the list was really cookie-cutter and doesn’t really touch the topics of what we’re trying to achieve here.”

I think when your own players describe your approach to anti-black racism and social justice as “cookie cutter” that probably means you still have a lot of work to do, you know?

In any event, Powell will wear “Black Lives Matter” on his jersey, which, all things considered, is probably the best and most powerful statement among the “approved” options. And it’s not like I’m saying the choices are bad, per se. Black Lives Matter is an important statement, and as we’ll get to, there are other important things on the list too. But I absolutely understand Norm’s disappointment in not being able to choose his own words.

2. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson: “Speak up”

I’ve found Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to be an insightful and thoughtful speaker, and so I think those words — the words Rondae will wear on the back of his jersey — are quite appropriate for him. “It sticks out for me personally,” he continued, “because I think a lot more of us on this platform should speak up and say something, especially if they believe in it, if they care about what’s going on right now in our world as a whole.” I couldn’t agree more.

“If we as a whole, the NBA, holds everyone to accountably and high standards, that’s when our platform can grow to another league, and another, and that’s how it becomes bigger than the game,” he went on. The NBA has been a leader on social justice issues — and yes, even though they’re doing so in an obvious, carefully orchestrated, “cater to the advertisers” way, it’s still more than other pro leagues are doing.

I’m glad Hollis-Jefferson was able to find something on the list that aligned with his philosophy.

(Of course — I’m still waiting for someone to speak out on anti-semitism.)

3. Hollis-Jefferson: “We’re making it tough for those guys””

That’s Rondae talking about the second unit, and how they’re pushing the first unit in practice. I wonder if, now that the team is, by all accounts, fully healthy, those second unit guys are realizing their minutes are probably on the chopping block? These practices are their opportunity to make a statement and solidify their place in the rotation for the seeding games, which will in turn solidify their place in the rotation for the playoffs.

In Rondae’s case, it’ll be really interesting to see where he nets out. The energy and defense he brings off the bench are the things that can swing a playoff game — those 4-5 minute stretches where a player comes in, gives his own key players rest and spends his time just disrupting everything the other team is doing. But at the same time, Hollis-Jefferson’s limitations on offense can be harmful in the exact opposite way; if the game slows down into a halfcourt affair then Hollis-Jefferson doesn’t really have a role beyond offensive rebounding.

4. Nick Nurse: “I don’t know what he drawback is... I didn’t see one, really”

Coach Nurse was asked about the “jumbo lineup” (either Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet with OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol) and what the possible downsides to playing it might be. That he doesn’t see any is pretty encouraging! The defensive advantages of it are clear, but offensively I think there are questions about the spacing and shooting — but Nurse said that as long as one of Fred or Kyle is out there to keeps things moving, the team can get into its two-man actions and make things happen.

Nurse went on to say that he’s encouraging everyone on the team to add more versatility so that multiple players can either handle the ball or set screens in those actions. He mentioned Siakam already doing this, and he specifically called out Powell and Anunoby as guys who would excel in either role as their handle and playmaking continue to improve.

5. Powell: “I’m a homebody person already”

Powell answered a question about how he’s handling his free time stuck while in a bubble, and man, I hear you, Norm! I’m not in a bubble but I can’t say self-isolation and social distancing have been that difficult for me — I don’t mind sticking around at home. Norm said he’s been reading, playing video games, and “handling my business off the court, trying to get more diverse in my investments.” Well, Norm, we got two things in common...


Well I was wrong yesterday when I said I thought we’d be hearing from Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam. Maybe today’s the day??