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“I wrote a letter to our guys this weekend and it took me awhile to put down exactly what I wanted to say,” Stevens said in a video conference call with reporters Tuesday. “But I think the thing I wanted them to know, is every decent person is hurting. Every decent person feels the pain of the African American community. But I also don’t want to pretend that I know the exact, distinct pain.
“What I wanted them to know is that I’m with them. I thought that was really important. It’s so, so great to see so many of the guys so active. … I’ve talked to a lot of guys. Everybody’s hurting. Let’s put it that way. The leadership they’ve shown is terrific. And hopefully the most important thing is we can have short-term healing, and we can have near-term gains, and we can have long-term sustainable action that creates change.”
“Jaylen’s greatest impact, as good as he is in basketball, won’t be in basketball. He’s a special guy,” Stevens said. “He’s a special leader. He’s smart, but he has courage. He’s got a lot of great stuff to him. I think we recognized that when we drafted him, but he has been even more unbelievable every day, every year.
“I’ve always personally really enjoyed listening to him and talking to him about things outside of basketball. He told me he was going down there on Thursday and I obviously knew … I’m certainly not surprised by him taking a leadership role. That’s who he is.”
Stevens was part of a call with all 30 NBA head coaches over the weekend, which preceded a statement the group put out Monday announcing the creation of a committee on racial injustice and reform to pursue solutions within NBA cities.
He said one thing that came out of that call was a need for both himself and other white coaches to try to drive more opportunities for minorities in the sport.
“I think the players have done an amazing job of leading, and also taking control of their careers, being vocal on what’s important to them. And the league, I think, has generally done a really good job of embracing that and really encouraging people to be active,” Stevens said. “There’s no question that like many other leagues, those things have to be addressed. The one thing, we were on a coaches call with all 30 coaches the other day and one thing I heard from a number of coaches was that as white coaches, we have a lot of responsibility.
“Obviously we may not be able to know the depth of the pain of the colleagues that are black or the players that are black, but we have a responsibility to not only be empathetic but to also drive change. That’s something you saw in the coaches’ association statement, you saw it in the Celtics’ statement. Again, we’ve all been in these conversations before and you’re moved to drive change and sometimes actionable steps lead to what you think is progress, but this sure doesn’t look like progress. What we need to do is play our part and make sure that we’re part of long-term sustainable change.”
Stevens also was asked about how he approaches his players on these topics and makes connections with them. He said he simply tries to listen and be there for them, and referenced the conversations he had with his team back in 2016 about Colin Kaepernick, as an example.
“I hope that all of our guys feel comfortable [talking to me] should they choose to do so,” Stevens said. “I’ve been in a lot of those conversations. We were in a lot of them [four] years ago, obviously, when Kaepernick was taking the knee prior to the season. From those three weeks of training camp, being able to sit in those meetings, being able to listen to our guys, I think that gave me a whole new understanding of just how much change is needed.
“At that time, as an organization, we tried to make sure we were doing our part again to create actionable steps. But there’s no question everybody’s got to do more. But again, being able to be a listener — hearing our players talk about profiling, talk about discrimination, being empathetic toward that but also being able to acknowledge that. Again, I may not know the depth of that, but know I’m with you. If you need me, I’m here. And we’ve got a lot of people that are here and want to help. That’s the way I approach it.”