The NBA Players Association is still conducting its own investigation into the incident outside a New York City club that left Atlanta Hawks guard Thabo Sefolosha under arrest. But based on video of the event, the union’s top official hasn’t seen much to persuade her that police officers’ treatment of Sefolosha, who suffered a broken leg during the arrest, was warranted.
“The best I can tell is that there’s no video at all that anybody has seen that would justify the way the police treated him,” Michele Roberts, the NBPA’s executive director, told NBA.com’s David Aldridge on Sunday. Though Roberts “didn’t want to say too much” because of the pending investigation, Aldridge reported, that is the strongest statement from Roberts or other union officials about Sefolosha’s injury and arrest.
Sefolosha and teammate Pero Antic were arrested outside 1OAK following the stabbing of another NBA player, Indiana’s Chris Copeland, inside the New York City nightclub. Both players were charged with obstructing governmental administration and disorderly conduct, and according to NYPD accounts, Sefolosha had instigated an altercation with police and resisted arrest. But other accounts, including one from a Sports Illustrated source who said police actually provoked the incident, have painted a different picture, and two videos published by TMZ show what appears to be a much different situation than NYPD officers have described.
Sefolosha and Antic were not immediately outside the nightclub, according to accounts, and the second of the two videos appears to show Sefolosha urging officers to “relax” before they tackled the 6-foot-5 NBA veteran to the pavement. The video also shows an officer striking Sefolosha with a club as onlookers yell for them to stop. Sefolosha has said in a statement that the broken leg and ligament damage that will keep him out of the NBA playoffs, which began Saturday, happened during the incident and that police were responsible.
Sefolosha’s run-in with NYPD comes at the end of a season in which NBA players were among the most outspoken athletes on police violence and abuse of black men. Derrick Rose, LeBron James, and other players wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts before games in December to protest the death of Eric Garner, who died after an NYPD officer put him in a headlock.
Now, the attention has turned to one of their own, a point that makes it even “more personal,” Brooklyn Nets guard Jarrett Jack told Bleacher Report. And as players across the league, including Sefolosha’s Atlanta teammates, have expressed support for him since news of the injury, they have linked it to larger problems of police treatment of black men across the country.
“I think a lot of people fear black males, so it’s scary,” Jackson, Sefolosha’s former teammate, said last week, according to the Detroit Free Press. “It’s trying times right now. Everybody’s trying to bring social order back, and hopefully we can get a better world.
“I’m not gonna lie, it’s kinda unfair at times as a black male,” he continued. “Only thing that I feel protects us is probably the celebrity status and being an NBA player, but nobody’s off limits when you see what happens to a former teammate like Thabo.”
“It’s a point of concern,” Atlanta forward Al Horford told ESPN of Sefolosha’s case and the current focus on police abuse. “A light is being shed on it, and I’m sure some things are going to change. They need to for society to be better.”
The NYPD is conducting an internal review of the incident, and the NBA, like the players union, has launched its own investigation into it. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Friday that the league’s job was to play “fact-finder” in looking into Sefolosha’s injury and that it didn’t want to pre-judge the outcome.
“He’s a player in this league, and we want to help him and assist him in any way we can. And our way of assisting him is to get the fullest understanding we can from what happened that night,” Silver said.