When Russell Westbrook makes his return to the court on Saturday, many believe he will do so with the intent of helping the Houston Rockets take a 3-2 series lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Entering Game 5, the nine-time All-Star has missed all of the Rockets’ post-season series so far due to an injured quad he sustained during the NBA seeding games.
Even though his return to the lineup will give the Rockets a significant boost in their attempt to advance to the Western Conference Semi-Finals, Westbrook believes his return to the court will be for a greater cause.
In an event that begin with the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, Westbrook helped lead an NBA boycott to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake — an unarmed African American male who was shot seven times by an on-duty cop in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Sunday. The decision caused a chain reaction around the sports world that resulted in a plethora of professional teams cancelling their scheduled practices and events.
When the NBA makes its return following a 72-hour hiatus, the game will be used as a way for players to continue using their most prominent platform.
“I think we all needed a paused. I think emotionally, physically, and mentally. The pause was for a greater cause with all of the social issues in our world today. Based on the recent police killings and shootings, it allowed us to use our platform to be able to stop what we are doing, and recognize how important it is for us as a league to come together and make sure we are doing the right thing.” — Westbrook
Prior to their agreement to enter the NBA Bubble in late-June, the league and the NBPA had an agreement that they will do so while keeping the fight against systemic racism and police brutality at the forefront. Two months later, the NBA announced its plan to promo civic engagement and advocate for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.
One of the most vital proposals is the increased voting access — in which every NBA team will turn their home arena into a safe polling location. The Toyota Center announced its plans on Thursday, stating they will open their doors from Oct. 13-30 and on Nov. 3 to Harris County voters. Hours of operation will run seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The NBA’s commitment to creating 30 new polling locations is an accomplishment Rockets’ head coach Mike D’Antoni might be the most impressed with, as one of the league’s most notable advocates for voting.
“I think that is [voting] the most important thing we can do. Everyone has the constitutional right to vote, and we cannot take that for granted. I am really proud of the Houston Rockets and the City of Houston that the Toyota Center is a voting place. We can make this place a little bit better.” — D’Antoni
According to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, Westbrook looked explosive as ever during Houston’s team scrimmage Thursday afternoon. Watching their high-flying point guard return to form must have been a pleasing sight to see for a franchise seeking its first NBA title since 1995.
For Westbrook, it is more pleasing returning to an organization that is committed to helping him prevent another name from being added to his “We Honor” shirt. A shirt designed to memorialize the individuals who have died over recent years due to social injustices: Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Terence Crutcher, Sandra Bland, Pamela Turner, Tamir Rice and Ahmaud Arbery.
“I am excited to play, but I am more excited that we are playing for a greater cause. It’s something I personally take action and responsibility in being an African-American athlete in this society, having a son of my own and other kids who look up to me. That is what I am most excited about.” — Westbrook.
In a series currently tied at 2-2, the Rockets will return to play on Saturday for their Game 5 match against the Thunder. Tip-off is slated for 5:30 p.m. CT.