NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy called Tuesday’s guilty verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin “an important day for our country” but said it was hard to find reasons to celebrate and recognized there is more work to do.
Van Gundy spoke to reporters ahead of Tuesday night’s 134-129 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, shortly after Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter by a jury for his role in the murder of George Floyd last May outside of a local convenience store.
“We had somebody needlessly killed right in front of us,” Van Gundy said. “Right in front of all of us because we can see it on video. And no verdict was going to change that. And while it’s just, it’s hard to celebrate. It’s also hard to celebrate because we’ve had other incidents just like it since the time George Floyd got killed.
“I guess what you wonder out of all this is, is it going to change anything? Is it going to change anything? It was a just verdict. But will it have larger implications? Will it force us or motivate us to explore better policing and solving the immense problem of racial justice. Is it going to do any of that, is it going to move us forward on any of that? Or is this just an isolated verdict on one where we had clear video evidence?
“I applaud the just verdict, but it’s hard for me to celebrate where the whole thing started — George Floyd still being dead and people since then being dead and not having overwhelming confidence that this is going to be a step in the right direction and not an isolated incident.”
Van Gundy, 61, said former Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce texted all of the league’s head coaches Tuesday, reminding them that the National Basketball Coaches Association started a committee on racial injustice and reform shortly after Floyd was murdered.
The committee, which includes Van Gundy and Pierce, was started to pursue solutions within NBA cities.
Van Gundy added that while he believes the country is “going backwards on issues of racial equality and justice,” the only thing that gives him hope is seeing how “engaged” the country’s younger generation is.
“I look at NBA players and, I mean, to see their level of engagement at their age. I look at my kids who are in their 20s and see their level of engagement. It’s up to them now because our generation, not your guys’ generation because I’m a lot older than everyone walking the planet, but my generation screwed it up. It’s up to the younger generation,” Van Gundy said.
“When I get down, I need to look at my kids. I need to look at athletes who are in their 20s and stuff and trying to be engaged. That’s where my hope comes from. But, man, it’s tough to see any forward progress right now.”
Minnesota Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said there was a sense of “relief” among his players after the guilty verdict was read Tuesday.
“I know there was a lot of anxiety surrounding the team over the last few days, not only about the verdict, but of course about what might happen to our community,” said Finch, who was with his team in Sacramento to face the Kings on Tuesday night. “We all have families, friends still there, so there’s a lot of concern there. I haven’t had a chance to connect with them all individually yet, which we intend to do, because we all kind of have different schedules as we come to the arena and prepare for the game.”
Finch acknowledged that the trial, as well as last week’s police shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, has made it difficult for many of his players to focus on basketball. The Wolves postponed their game April 12, a day after Wright was killed when a Brooklyn Center police officer shot him during a traffic stop.
“I think it’s something that’s weighing on them every day,” Finch said. “We see the visual reinforcement of what’s happening, whether it be national guards in our street or the Brooklyn Center protests. These are things we can’t escape — and it’s perfectly OK to not think about basketball when we think about these other larger things in life that are right in our face that we’re trying to deal with as a community.”
Several other NBA coaches and players reacted to the verdict Tuesday.
• Nate McMillan, Hawks: “I feel that the jury did their jobs. You got to hold everybody accountable for their actions. The jury found him guilty on all three charges. I thought they did their jobs. That is all everybody is asking for in this country — hold everybody accountable for their actions. I thought they made the right decision today.”
• Lou Williams, Hawks: “I’m happy for the Floyd family to have an opportunity to get some peace, some closure with that situation. It was unfortunate how it went down. But today was a good day for African Americans and anybody else that has been a part of injustice that comes at the hands of police brutality and acts like that.”
• Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets: “We have a long way to go as a country. Obviously there’s some progress being made in conversations being had and justice being served. But we still have a long way to go. It’s a great time to reflect and see how far we’ve come in the last year with the verdict and the case. And unfortunately losing a life … a few lives last year through police brutality. There’s violence out in the streets. So you just want to galvanize each other and be there for each other as human beings and continue to support justice being served.”
• Steve Nash, Nets: “It’s bittersweet. Obviously, George Floyd lost his life as many others have unjustly, and we can’t forget that people are losing their lives. On the other hand, it is a small gesture of justice and possibly hope for the future in that perhaps all the social justice movements, the NBA, the WNBA with the community at large are really making an impact. Whether it’s small and creating a tipping point or whether it’s large, it gives hope that the voices of many are making change and we have a better future for our kids.”
• James Borrego, Charlotte Hornets: “It was an appropriate verdict. Obviously agree there, but we have a lot of work to do. Our league has done a great job helping bring change and continuing to see change and push for change, and the other thing, I think, today was hopefully a day of healing, but also to push us to want more, to be more, to want to see change. I’m proud to work for a league and an organization that wants to see that and continue the dialogue. We won’t stop here. We’ll continue as an organization to do what we can in our own community to call out injustices and to push our communities to be better, and I think that’s what we all want for our kids, our families.”
• Tyronn Lue, LA Clippers: “I mean, it’s a sad day. It’s great to see someone being held accountable for their actions. Every day in life, whatever you do, you need to be held accountable for your actions. And it doesn’t bring George Floyd back, you know. My thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family. It’s still a sad day because it doesn’t bring him back, but it is good to see that people are being held accountable for their actions.”
• DeMarcus Cousins, LA Clippers: “I kinda have mixed emotions, to be honest. On one hand, this is something we’ve been fighting for for years, just to get justice for actions from law enforcement, so today we took a step forward with actually getting some progress. But it sucks because in order for that to happen, a life had to be sacrificed. And not only was it George Floyd, but the countless others that, throughout the years, have gone through these same situations. And it sucks. … Law enforcement’s job is to protect and serve. They should stand by those words and correct them, and maybe we’ll be able to say we feel better about it.”
• Tom Thibodeau, New York Knicks: “We’re pleased that justice was served. Your heart goes out to the Floyd family because there’s nothing you can do to bring him back. Obviously, in society, this is no place for racism or bigotry. We have to do better. As a country, we have to do better.”
• Steve Clifford, Orlando Magic: “For me, the overriding emotion was just relief. … I can’t lie, coming into this, like a lot of people, I was very concerned [had the ruling gone another way]. … Hopefully this can start to bring some sense of closure.”
• CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers: “I am happy the family was able to get its proper due, obviously, with the guilty verdict. But his life is still not here, he is still not coming back. Obviously with the body cam and things of that nature, someone tweeted basically, ‘We watched it in 4K and it still felt like a 16-seed beating a 1-seed in order for it to be a guilty verdict,’ and I don’t think it should be like that at this point in my life, especially here in America. … I think there is a lot of change that needs to be done. In terms of law enforcement, I think the George Floyd bill should be passed. I think we are taking steps in the right direction, but we have a long, long ways to go as a society, especially when it comes to law enforcement, and how the Black and Brown people have been treated historically.”
ESPN’s Nick Friedell, Ohm Youngmisuk and Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.