Memphis Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins watched a televised interview Friday of Tyre Nichols’ mother speaking about the loss of her son and he lost control of his emotions.
“I cried,” Jenkins said.
The outrage, frustration, sadness and anger was evident around the basketball world Friday, the day a video was released showing how Nichols, a 29-year-old father, was killed by five Memphis police officers. The NBA, WNBA and several teams released statements of support for the family, as did the players’ unions.
The emotions were palpable, as has been the case so many times after so many other incidents of violence by police against Black men and women in recent years.
“This is just crazy,” said Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who opened his pregame news conference Friday by speaking about Nichols before any questions were asked.
The officers, who are also Black, all face second-degree murder charges as well as charges of aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.
The Grizzlies played a game in Minneapolis — the city where George Floyd, a Black man, was killed in 2020 after a white police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck in an act that sparked protests worldwide over police brutality and racism — on Friday night with heavy hearts.
“The senseless loss of life for Tyre Nichols has really hit us hard,” Jenkins told Bally Sports, the Grizzlies’ broadcast partner, in a pregame interview. “It’s been tough being on the road, not being home. I wish I could extend my arms through this camera right now to the family. They’re going through a lot.”
There was a moment of silence before the game in Minnesota. Afterward, Jenkins continued speaking out about what it means to the Grizzlies to represent Memphis at such a trying time.
“There’s way harder things going on in the city versus what’s going on with our basketball right now,” Jenkins said after his team’s 111-100 loss. “I’m proud of our guys going out there. We’re playing with heavy hearts, but we’re also playing for our city that’s going through a lot right now.”
Hours before tipoff, Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. tweeted, “To the Nichols family, my teammates and I are and have been paying attention. We are with you. To Memphis, we are hurting, too. Peaceful protest, supporting the family, pushing for accountability are what’s needed in this moment.”
To the Nichols family, my teammates and I are and have been paying attention. We are with you.
To Memphis, we are hurting, too.
Peaceful protest, supporting the family, pushing for accountability are what’s needed in this moment. 🤎
— JJJ (@jarenjacksonjr) January 27, 2023
Grizzlies players were not made available to media after the game.
Nichols was on his way home from taking pictures of the sky Jan. 7 when police pulled him over. He was just a few minutes from the home he shared with his mother and stepfather.
Video of the killing was released Friday evening. Jenkins said he had not watched the video, which was released shortly before the game, and to his knowledge neither had his team.
— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) January 27, 2023
“We are outraged by the deadly beating that Tyre Nichols received from five Memphis police officers,” the Bucks said in their statement. “While the police officers being charged for their heinous actions is an important step for justice, this incident further highlights the need for progress in improving police-community relations.”
The NBA put out a statement about two hours after the video of Nichols’ death was released, while protests were going on in multiple cities.
“The images of Tyre Nichols’ life needlessly cut short are horrifying,” the league said. “While there have been steps toward accountability in this instance, the NBA family remains committed to partnering with advocates, policymakers and law enforcement to work toward solutions to the issues we continue to face.”
The WNBA said it will “continue to be a voice for those who face discrimination, racism and injustices, and will work to effect meaningful, systemic change in our communities.”
The NFLPA issued a statement Saturday that read, “This is yet another reminder that there is much work to be done in the fight against injustice in our country, and the work of our union and players to combat it must press on.”
In its own statement, the NFL said it will “remain deeply committed to combating the injustices and inequities that plague our society and will continue to work with our social justice partners to support our communities and fight for change.”
The video footage from Jan. 7 shows police repeatedly striking Nichols with their fists, boots and batons for three minutes, screaming profanities at him throughout the attack, before leaving him on the pavement propped against a squad car.
As Nichols is slumped against the car, none of the officers renders aid. The body camera footage shows a first-person view of one of them reaching down and tying his shoe. It takes more than 20 minutes after Nichols is beaten and on the pavement before any sort of medical attention is provided, even though two fire department officers arrived on the scene with medical equipment within 10 minutes.
Nichols died three days later.
In its statement, the NBPA said “such aggressive policing and excessive force illustrate the continued need for accountability in the justice system.” The union said it would “continue to monitor the investigation and legal proceedings in search of justice for Tyre and his family.”
“We are outraged,” the Women’s National Basketball Players Association said. “The police killing of Tyre Nichols marks the continuation of horrific police brutality against yet another Black man. This appalling police misconduct endangers us all and erodes the continuously waning trust of the police within our communities.”
The WNBPA’s statement concluded, “Enough is enough. We have no choice but to bear witness to the life and murder of Tyre Nichols and a moral obligation to demand better for our society. These moments will and must shake our nation to its core. May they also spur us to act. No more.”
“Change is needed at all levels and we all need to do our part,” Paul wrote. “We can’t lose our humanity as a society. To the Nichols’ family and Memphis community, my heart is with you tonight.”
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, warned supporters of the “horrific” nature of the video but pleaded for peace.
Protesters gathered for mostly peaceful demonstrations in multiple cities, including Memphis, where several dozen demonstrators blocked the Interstate 55 bridge that carries traffic over the Mississippi River toward Arkansas. Semitrucks were backed up for a distance. In Washington, dozens of protestors gathered in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House and near Black Lives Matter Plaza.
Jenkins said he hopes citizens of Memphis rally around one another.
“My words will only mean so much,” Jenkins said. “I want to continue to encourage people to put their arms around each other, put their arms around the Nichols family, the Wells family, to remember a beautiful life in Tyre Nichols — who I did not know, but I’m learning about.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.