Julius Jones Case: Everyone had a voice except the Oklahoma City Thunder

The Julius Jones case invaded the entire week leading up to the week of Thanksgiving. While the movement #JusticeForJulius started a few years ago, the social media hashtag didn’t transition into an international story until recently.

There were several days of large crowds, 200-300 people deep, taking to the State Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion to protest Oklahoma’s Governor, Kevin Stitt’s delay to grant Julius Jones clemency in his murder case, saving him from the death penalty. The outrage made it to local and national blogs, television stations, websites, and social media platforms. His case was featured on “The Last Defense,” a three-episode documentary produced by Viola Davis that aired in 2018. Kim Kardashian West spoke out. Athletes with Oklahoma ties, like Baker Mayfield, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, and Trae Young, spoke out publically about this. Elected officials from other countries also voiced their disgust about this case.

Everyone seemed to be outraged, except the Oklahoma City Thunder and at least two of their players, which was bewildering.

Head coach Mark Daigneault gave Daniel Bell of Black Sports Online a great quote regarding the Julius Jones case:

But when I asked Luguentz Dort and Derrick Favors about the controversy happening seven minutes away from the Paycom Center, Luguentz Dort responded like he wasn’t aware of anything. Derrick Favors added that he ‘just moved to Oklahoma’ and didn’t know enough about the case to speak on it.

Some said that the organization probably advised them not to speak about the case publically. That idea is debunked because why did coach Daigneault acknowledge the issue? In his quote, why did he add that he and the team talked about the situation in practice?

The biggest question is, why didn’t the Thunder speak out on the topic, and how could Dort nor Favors know about what was going on, at least on an elementary level? Why couldn’t they give a generic statement for justice to be served (not showing bias to either family)? The issue doesn’t primarily lie with them caring or not caring about what’s going on in the community. It’s more so their lack of acknowledgment that rubbed many the wrong way.

Dort is Haitian-Canadian, so the issue probably isn’t as polarizing for him simply because being a Black-American, and a Black-Canadian are two different things. Canada doesn’t have the long negative history towards Black people as America does. Dort doesn’t live the same reality as most Black people in America, and that’s fine. Frankly, that’s great for him.

While he may get a pass for not being as outraged about the topic, that does not negate that he should be somewhat knowledgeable of significant events like that happening in the city he lives in. Does the blame fall on a 22-year old for not educating himself on current issues, or the Thunder for not keeping their players up-to-date on current events that impact their community? You can decide that for yourself.

As for Derrick Favors, the bar is a little higher for him because he’s a 30-year old Black man from Atlanta, GA. He knows what it’s like to be a Black man in America. He should also know the significance of this case and shouldn’t need an organization to inform him. Despite what side he’s on, whether that be the Jones or the Howell side of the case, he should have sufficient knowledge to give a decent response other than what he gave.

Last year, the Thunder spoke out on the Derek Chauvin verdict, another story that spread throughout the nation.

“Today’s verdict offers a level of justice for the Floyd family, but that is only one step in the long journey toward ending system racism in our country. The Thunder is committed to working toward ending racial injustice, and we are all responsible for helping to take this moment in our country’s history and improve on it for today, for tomorrow, and for generations to come.”

Then, during the NBA bubble playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks took the lead by sitting out of Game 5 of the NBA playoffs first round after the Kenosha, WI shooting of Jacob Blake. The NBA followed by postponing games until the league came to a united front on the issue.

The Thunder organization and the players didn’t take a lead role on this. And that looks bad to many because, despite Derrick Favors’ opinion, the Julius Jones case isn’t a hidden secret buried in Oklahoma City. It has become a national story and considering the NBA, the league that’s always outspoken on social justice, criminal justice, and racial issues, it’s a bad look that seemingly no one took this seriously publically, except a large portion of the community that supports them.

Addam M. Francisco

Founder & Editor-in-Chief. National Association of Black Journalists. University of Central Oklahoma.

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