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Adam Silver on Sterling Brown video: ‘It was horrific’

NBA commissioner offers support for Milwaukee Bucks guard who was arrested and shocked with a stun gun for parking infraction

OAKLAND, California — NBA commissioner Adam Silver described Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown’s treatment at the hands of Milwaukee police as “horrific.”

Three officers were disciplined for their actions during the arrest of Brown on Jan. 25. Police used a stun gun on Brown after detaining him at Walgreens for a parking violation. A body camera video showed that Brown was thrown to the pavement and shocked with a stun gun. The African-American player told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he “gave in” when police used a stun gun in fear they would “pull out their guns.”

The Bucks offered their support to Brown in a statement on May 23 after the video was released: “The abuse and intimidation that Sterling experienced at the hands of Milwaukee Police was shameful and inexcusable. Sterling has our full support as he shares his story and takes action to provide accountability.”

Silver also offered support for Brown during his annual news conference at the NBA Finals before Game 1 on Thursday.

“I saw the video for the first time when the public saw it. It was horrific,” Silver said. “For any of us, regardless to the fact that he was an NBA player, it was difficult to watch. It’s painful. I would say as a result of police officers wearing cameras on their body, the transparency that the internet now provides through that sort of distribution, my sense it’s not necessarily the case that society has changed in the last few years.

“Now that in a very positive way, people like me who aren’t subjected, frankly, to that type of treatment are becoming much more aware of how a certain part of our society views law enforcement and their interactions with law enforcement.”

Silver said he has spoken with Brown and had “extensive conversations” with his father, Chris Brown, who was a veteran Chicago-area policeman.

“I talked to his father, who was a police officer for 30 years, and there was no anti-police sentiment in that family,” Silver said. “It is a reality in our country that there is a disconnect often between young people of color, especially, and police officers, incidentally black and white. There are things that the league has undertaken, led in many ways by our players and our leading players over the last several years, has been defined by ways to build bridges in communities and to develop dialogue directly between young people and police officers.”

Silver is proud of the town hall meetings in communities that NBA players and teams have embarked on to discuss problems between police officers and people of color.

“We haven’t publicized a lot of those meetings,” Silver said. “It’s been meetings, without media, without camera crews, of young people, players acting as facilitators. Many players can relate, of course, to situations in communities with our police officers so we can better understand each other. We’ve embarked on those initiatives all over our country, all of our teams.

“The Warriors have done a ton of things in Oakland, Cleveland, with these two teams as exemplars of the impact teams can have in communities. But again they’ve tried to have those so-called difficult conversations. It has been very effective. But at the same time, with Sterling Brown, that young man, we have a long way to go.”

The NFL recently changed its national anthem policy in an effort to eliminate the protests that then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ignited when he took a knee during the anthem to protest racial inequality. Players are required to stand for the anthem this season, with the option to remain in the locker room while it is played. Teams could be fined for players who don’t adhere to the new rule.

In the NBA, the rule under the collective bargaining agreement is that “players, coaches and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line during the playing of the national anthem.” Silver said in September that he expected players to stand during the playing of the national anthem. Silver said Thursday there have been no talks about “changing the existing rule” in the NBA in regards to the national anthem.

Golden State Warriors forward David West has stood a step behind his teammates during the national anthem to protest several issues in America. There were no public fines of NBA players for disrespecting the anthem this past season.

“In terms of the anthem policy, I’ve watched what the NFL has done,” Silver said. “I feel we’re in a very different situation than the NFL is in. Of course, we had a rule on our books that has preceded [former NBA commissioner] David Stern that was put in place by [former NBA commissioner] Larry O’Brien in the early ‘80s. And from my standpoint, it’s been about respect. Respect for the institution, respect for the fans, respect for the country these players are playing in.

“In the case of the NBA, of course, 25 percent of our league is comprised of players who aren’t American, so it’s hard to say. In the case of the NBA, it’s about patriotism. Many of our players aren’t American. But we viewed it as a moment of unity. And there has been different dialogue in the NBA than there is in the NFL. Again, I am only an observer about what I see and read in what is happening in the NFL. But our emphasis, at least, has been on constructive activities in our communities.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.