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Hall of Famer Wayne Embry: ‘Going ahead and playing now could be a model’

While some NBA players are considering whether to play when the league restarts next month amid the massive Black Lives Matter movement — something they don’t want to distract from — Hall of Famer Wayne Embry knows what he would do. 

He’d play. 

Doing so, he said Saturday, could help significantly propel the movement forward.

"I've always been a proponent of sports being a model of a greater society because we come together from different cultures and different backgrounds and work toward a common goal," Embry said, via ESPN. "Going ahead and playing now could be a model. I know I would play.”

Embry played in the league from 1958-1969, most notably for the Cincinnati Royals and the Boston Celtics, and picked up five All-Star nods. He later worked as the general manager for the Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999. 

Embry was the first Black general manager in the league, and is currently a senior adviser for the Raptors — a post he’s held since 2004.

The NBA is planning to resume its season at Disney World near Orlando, Florida, next month amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Several players, most notably led by Kyrie Irving, have discussed concerns about playing during the Black Lives Matter movement

Players have until Wednesday to let the league know whether they will be participating — though they won’t be punished if they decide to opt out in favor of supporting the movement, due to coronavirus-related concerns or any other reason. No player has officially said he won’t play, though Atlanta Dream star Renee Montgomery announced she will skip the WNBA season to focus on social justice reform.

Playing after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination

Embry was faced with a similar situation himself back in 1968. 

The Celtics were set to start a playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers on the day that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Embry and several of his teammates, understandably, wanted to sit out and skip the game.

“Our minds weren't on the game. We were all stung,” he said, via ESPN. “We had a meeting. Some of the white players wanted to play. Most of the black players didn't. Red [Auerbach] came to us and said Commissioner [J. Walter] Kennedy been in contact with mayors of both cities and they thought it was wise if we played because of the interest in the game. People would stay home to watch it. 

“We had a debate. We didn't want to see violence. Dr. King's legacy had been nonviolent. So we played the game."

The NBA later suspended play for four days until King’s funeral. 

While the situation isn’t exactly the same as today, there are plenty of similarities — most notably players wanting to speak out and take stands about social issues, something Embry is all for. 

"I'm a big supporter of the First Amendment,” he said, via ESPN. “You have every right to be vocal and protest. Our players should never shut up and dribble. If you believe in the constitution, that makes you a patriot and you're entitled to say whatever you want."

Wayne Embry watches as the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors practice on the eve of Game 4 of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland on June 6, 2019. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

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