Colin Kaepernick’s guidance on social activism provided NBA players a blueprint during an uncertain time in the Bubble

He is a full-time activist now, the man who took the 49ers to a Super Bowl losing his career because he refused to stand for the national anthem out of Protest for police brutality and other injustices to people of color.

And while Kaepernick impacted athlete activism and empowered a younger generation to speak up on social issues, his impact on the NBA is rather unknown.

Two years ago in the NBA bubble, players were ready to walk out on the season after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., on the heels of the Murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. They skipped games, informed the owners of their disinterest in continuing the season in Orlando and collaborated about whether they should just go home and end the season without a Champion or continue under new conditions and Promises from the teams’ governors.

When he was quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick attempted to draw attention to social injustice by taking a knee during the national anthem, drawing the support of teammate Eric Reid (left) before a Sept. 18, 2016, game against the host Charlotte Panthers.Mike McCarn/Associated Press

Looking for guidance, looking for an opinion from someone who has his own take on the NFL’s billion dollar enterprise, the brass from the NBA Players Association, including Chris Paul, reached out to Kaepernick during those Pivotal days of late August 2020.

“When we were in the bubble, he was on the phone with a lot of those guys, Chris Paul, just giving his insight,” said Celtics forward Jaylen Brown. “He wasn’t charging nobody anything or trying to tell anybody which way to go, he wanted to use his platform and his voice and help guys through some things. Kaepernick has been a great mentor, a great person who has always tried to give advice from a distance. He doesn’t try to push people to do one thing or another.”

After the Celtics defeated the Raptors, Brown and Kaepernick embraced under one of the baskets at Scotiabank Arena and shared a long conversation.

“It’s been a while,” Brown said. “He just had a baby and I just said Congratulations to him and his wife. Kap is an old friend. We’ve had conversations, talks, been out to eat, just have communicated with each other over time and besides what he does on his platform and what he’s done as a football player, I’ve gotten to know Kaepernick the man, been around his family a little bit. It’s good to see him.”

Jayson Tatum said it was “great” to play in front of Kaepernick.

“That was unexpected to see him there, but I got a chance to talk to him a little bit this summer on the Nike campus,” he said. “The reaction that he got [Monday night]I was happy to see that, how much his impact, how much that means.”

Kaepernick’s impact on the Bubble was immeasurable. There were varying opinions about whether the NBA players should leave Orlando and cancel the season. Brown implored his NBA Brethren that if they planned to go back to their hometowns they should use that time to make active change in the community. In other words, don’t just leave because of the restrictions of the Bubble and retreat to the comforts of home.

The players decided to stay in the Bubble and finish out the season, negotiating with team Governors to make NBA Arenas polling places for the 2020 Presidential election and also increased league marketing on voter registration during Bubble games.

“He definitely lent his voice to us when we needed it,” Brown said. “Chris Paul is someone who leaned on Kaepernick quite a bit to give us some direction in how we wanted to go as a union. I think he had some pretty dope things to share. He has a pretty interesting perspective.

“Kaepernick was someone who was willing to sacrifice it all and I think that he would have liked to play again if he was able to. But to be able to use your platform to make a change, to bring awareness to situations, that’s what it’s about. That’s what he did. They succeeded in that. They brought a lot of awareness to police brutality and things that are going on that people didn’t know existed.”

Said Tatum: “He was definitely a voice of reason and somebody to help us navigate through those times in the bubble. Somebody I respect a lot.”

And it wasn’t lost on the Celtics players that Kaepernick, once and still a controversial figure, received such a warm response from the crowd in Toronto. Before Floyd’s death, and several other racially motivated incidents, Kaepernick was one of the more unpopular athletes in the American sports landscape.

“Fast forward a couple of years down the line, how he was treated at that time versus how he is treated now is almost night and day,” Brown said. “It just shows you when you bring awareness to things, people won’t appreciate you and accept you in the moment. But sometimes down the line, they will.”


Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.

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