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Hawks approved to turn State Farm Arena into huge voting station for upcoming elections

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The Fulton County Registration and Elections Board approved a plan by the Atlanta Hawks to transform State Farm Arena into a massive polling station for Georgia’s primary runoff election on Aug. 11, as well as early voting for the general election scheduled for Nov. 3.

The idea was hatched during the weekend following the killing of George Floyd, when the focal point of protesters in Atlanta was just outside the Hawks’ home arena. Conversations between Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce, the franchise’s CEO Steve Koonin and majority owner Antony Ressler quickly coalesced around an idea of turning the playing floor into a voting location.

“We were casually brainstorming since our whole world turned about what we can do internally as an organization,” Pierce said. “We were trying to figure out how we can take care of home first, and [Koonin] pitched the idea.”

After taking two weeks to examine the facility’s capacity to host both early and election day voting in both summer and fall, the Hawks brought the idea to the Fulton County Commission, which provides funding for the county’s registration and elections board.

“It took me about a nanosecond to understand what a big deal that would be for us here in Fulton County running this upcoming election, given the challenges that we had,” Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts said.

Polling sites in the Atlanta metropolitan area, particularly in predominately African American precincts, were beset by logistical problems during the primary election on June 9. Watching Georgians endure waits of several hours to vote further assured the Hawks their plan could bring efficacy to a system that lacked it.

“Making State Farm Arena the safest, most efficient and largest polling location in Georgia — and maybe the country — we thought was a really cool idea that helps Atlanta be a model for a great voting experience rather than what hasn’t, shall we say, been a model recently,” Pitts said.

Neither the Hawks nor Fulton County could offer a specific target for the number of voting machines they planned to house at State Farm Arena, though the Hawks said the expectation was several hundred. The building, which has an interior of 680,000 square feet, includes a practice floor, several clubs and dozens of suites, all of which can conceivably accommodate voters.

Much of that square footage will be used to account for the coronavirus. Voting machines that might typically be arranged just inches from one another will be set at least six feet apart. Lines to vote on the game court will begin at the portals in the main concourse and descend down the aisles of the lower bowl to the floor, with voters following social distancing practices. Given the size of the arena, many ancillary functions required on election day, like tabulating absentee ballots, will also be performed on site.

Ressler offered as a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that if the Hawks wanted to truly maximize turnout at the State Farm Arena location, the team would host an open court practice as voters filed into the building and cast their ballots. He was politely told that such a setup wasn’t practical. He nevertheless anticipates that Hawks players will be active in the get-out-the-vote effort in Fulton County.

The Hawks have volunteered to pick up the expenses for the voting facility, including compensation for 300 full-time State Farm Arena employees and several hundred who work part time. Vehicles with voters will not be charged for parking.

In addition to election day, State Farm Arena will also serve as one of 19 polling locations that will offer early voting for over a 19-day period prior to Election Day, in both the runoff and general elections.

“Adam Silver says that arenas should be town halls or public squares for the city they serve,” Koonin said. “This was something that was one of those ideas that was so obvious you asked, ‘Why hasn’t anyone done it before?'”

Pierce, who has played a lead role on the National Basketball Coaches Association’s committee on racial injustice and reform, plans to discuss the initiative on the weekly call of the NBA’s head coaches.

“The focal point tonight is what the coaches can do in Orlando to keep this conversation alive and use our voice and our platform in unity,” Pierce said. “But being able to address the group and show them this initiative was really not hard to process. We reached out to the county and they were on board. The next thing you know, we’re the first city to have an arena host a voting site. So I really want to encourage all the other 28 other coaches.”

Pierce added that while the 29th coach, Toronto’s Nick Nurse, can’t help develop a polling site at Scotiabank Arena, he has been helpful encouraging American expatriates in Canada to complete voter registration and obtain absentee ballots.

“When we saw what we saw on June 9, it was extremely clear that we have a real issue in the state of Georgia and especially here in Atlanta,” Pierce said. “And we felt we had an opportunity to do something special. It was encouraging that we were able to think outside of the box and speak this idea into existence.”

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Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie says he recently tested positive for coronavirus

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Brooklyn Nets star Spencer Dinwiddie has been diagnosed with coronavirus and is not sure he will be able to participate when the season resumes, he told The Athletic on Monday.

“Over the past few months, I have been diligent about protecting myself and others from COVID-19 by following all designated protocol and quarantining,” Dinwiddie said in a statement. “I was ready and prepared to rejoin my teammates. … I flew private to return to New York, passed multiple COVID-19 tests over my first several days in New York and was able to participate in a couple practices within the first week.

“Originally, we were supposed to be one of the teams to enter into the Orlando bubble early, but training camp got switched back to New York and unfortunately I am now positive. Given that I have experienced symptoms, including fever and chest tightness, it is unclear on whether or not I’ll be able to participate in Orlando.”

Dinwiddie says he will remain quarantined and reevaluate after 14 days.

The guard averaged 20.6 points, 6.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds for the 30-34 Nets, who were in seventh place in the East when the season was suspended. The Nets are one of the 22 NBA teams scheduled to resume games on July 30 in Orlando, Florida.

They will be without forward Wilson Chandler, who informed the team that he is opting out of playing, he told ESPN’s Malika Andrews on Sunday.

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NBA plans to paint ‘Black Lives Matter’ on courts in Orlando

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The NBA is planning to paint “Black Lives Matter” on the court inside both sidelines in all three arenas it will use at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, when it resumes the 2019-20 season late next month, league sources told ESPN.

The WNBA is also discussing painting “Black Lives Matter” on the court when it begins its abbreviated 2020 season at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, sources said.

Sources also said some WNBA players have suggested in talks with league higher-ups that players wear shooting shirts with “Say Her Name” written on them in an attempt to keep attention on female victims of police brutality — including Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by police in her home in Louisville, Kentucky, in March.

Players have insisted the fight for racial equality and social justice be a central part of the NBA’s return to play and the WNBA’s new season. Several NBA players considered skipping the NBA’s Orlando resumption to focus on social justice issues. Several WNBA players, including Renee Montgomery of the Atlanta Dream and Natasha Cloud of the Washington Mystics, are sitting out the upcoming WNBA season to focus on social justice.

On a conference call with reporters Friday, leaders of both the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association said the league and union were discussing several methods of using the NBA’s platform in Orlando to call attention to racial equality, social justice and police brutality. Over the weekend, Chris Paul, president of the players’ union, told ESPN that the league and union were collaborating to allow players to wear uniforms with personalized messages linked to social justice on the backs of their jerseys in place of players’ last names.

The killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25 — with one officer, Derek Chauvin, since charged with second-degree murder after kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than seven minutes as Floyd reiterated that he could not breathe — spurred nationwide protests. It followed the killings of Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery — a 25-year-old Black man who was chased down by three white men and shot by one of them during a jog in Georgia in late February. All three men were indicted on murder charges last week.

Several high-profile players in both leagues participated in protests around the country.

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Raptors’ Fred VanVleet says ‘terrible timing’ for NBA to restart, but will play

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Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said it was difficult to decide whether to take part in the NBA restart to its season amid the coronavirus pandemic and protests for social justice.

Ultimately, though, he decided to play.

“It sucks,” VanVleet said in a conference call Monday of having to make such a choice. “It’s terrible timing. But that’s been 2020 for us. We all know the right thing to do is to not play, to take a stand. Morally, yes, that makes sense. But life goes on. We’re all young, Black guys. None of us want to give any money back. I don’t think that we should. I think that money can be used in a number of different ways.

“This is not going to end this summer regardless, or over the next couple of months. This issue, racial injustice, social injustice, police brutality, all these things are not ending anytime soon. Our fight was long-term. That was part of my decision.

“But if the league, or more of my guys would have come together and said we didn’t want to play, I would have sat out as well. I wouldn’t have even fought it. I think most of us decided to play. It’s something we’ll have to live with. I trust that my heart’s in the right place and I’m doing enough to make change.”

The Raptors became the first team to travel to Florida ahead of next month’s restart, having decamped to Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers for two weeks before heading into the NBA’s bubble inside Disney World on July 9.

And while Raptors president Masai Ujiri said he didn’t have to convince any of his players — all of whom are participating in the restarted season — to play, he said there were teamwide discussions that he thought were important to get everyone on the same page.

“I think it’s important that we communicate with all our players and this thing takes time,” he said. “It’s a process and we all put our heads together with our organization as much as we can, especially in a situation like this.

“It’s a focus on safety, it’s a focus on individual safety and their families, too. … We have to get everybody involved. Our coaches were involved, our players were involved in this decision to go there.”

Ujiri, the NBA’s only Black president of basketball operations, said the platform the NBA has as part of this return to play in Orlando is something he believes he, the Raptors as an organization and the league as a whole can take advantage of to promote changes in both the NBA and society.

“First of all, this is a really interesting time,” Ujiri said. “Black lives do matter, and we’re going really going to use this platform, I think. It’s continuous, right? This is something that I don’t think is going to stop. Because, so there’s so much, so, so much to be addressed. We have had really good discussions and meetings.

“I think you saw what Adam said on the league level. I think that’s, that’s first and foremost of what the league would do. I think we’re concentrating on a few things. What does the NBA do long term, in terms of what resources are they going to put into this? I think there’s the discussion of Black executives and Black positions in the NBA. And then there’s a discussion of how you use the campus at Orlando, to really show the world that we can be a voice, [the] players can be a voice.”

Players can have personalized social justice, social cause or charity messages on the backs of their jerseys instead of their last names during the upcoming restart, as The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears reported this weekend.

“Yeah, I’ve thought about it,” VanVleet said. “I think it’s cool … something that we’ve talked about in some of our meetings is how do we get some of our ‘propaganda’ — so to call it — to pop out because the only way this is being consumed is on TV. So I think that’s going to go a long way and it’s something that will last for years to come, people will always look back on these games and the first thing they’ll see is whether there’s a fist on the court or a name and they’ll have to look and say, ‘What is that?’ or ‘Who is Breonna Taylor?’ or ‘who is George Floyd?’ if that’s what guys choose.”

VanVleet said he wasn’t sure yet what he would say, as he wanted to have conversations with people in his life before committing to whatever message he chooses to display on his jersey.

“My high school coach, my step-dad, a couple people that I look up to — my financial advisor. Older guys who have been around for a while,” he said.
“My high school coach is an African American studies teacher so I respect his perspective as an older white guy who has a master’s in African American studies.”

As far as life inside the bubble itself goes, VanVleet said he admitted he was concerned about Florida’s rapidly rising COVID-19 case count, and said part of why he was willing to be there was that his family didn’t have to be there with him, which could’ve made them vulnerable to the virus.

Players will have the option to have family members join them if they are on one of the eight teams that advance past the first round of the playoffs — something the defending champion Raptors expect to do. VanVleet said the decision to bring his family with him is something that he’ll figure out as the date draws closer.

“I’m here by myself for awhile and I still will be able to make that decision if they are able to come before the date that allows them to come,” he said. “I will be there for a month or more before they are actually allowed to come. So I will have some sense of what it is like and what things are like and how risky or dangerous it is.

“I definitely respect guys that took the stand to sit out for whatever reason. But my choice was to come play. I’m not right and they’re not wrong. It’s just a personal choice for everybody.”

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