Few could be faulted for not knowing that the peaceful protester Wednesday afternoon at Lake Merritt Amphitheater with the black facemask, black “ThroughThisTogether” T-shirt and black bucket hat was one of the world’s most recognizable sports icons.
Warriors point guard Stephen Curry joined “Walking in Unity,” an event that teammate Juan Toscano-Anderson helped organize, for the same reason as the nearly 1,000 people he marched alongside: to give the late George Floyd a voice, condemn police brutality in the U.S. and try to help end systematic racism. Though Curry didn’t grab a megaphone during the three-hour protest, he showed solidarity with the other participants.
As he made the 3.4-mile walk around Lake Merritt with his wife, Ayesha, Curry chanted the names of Floyd and other African Americans killed by police, repeatedly called for justice and stopped from time to time to embrace his teammates. In addition to Toscano-Anderson and Curry, the Warriors’ Klay Thompson, Damion Lee and Kevon Looney attended the protest.
No autographs were signed, and no selfies were taken. With the country in a state of civil unrest in the wake of video going viral last week of the 46-year-old Floyd being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a police officer’s knee on his neck for eight minutes, the five players at Lake Merritt on Wednesday kept the focus on peace, largely blending into the crowd.
The only member of the Warriors to speak publicly was Tocano-Anderson, an East Oakland native who started organizing the protest around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday with nine childhood friends. His biggest concern was that, because the announcement didn’t come out until after 10 p.m. Tuesday, few would attend.
But by the time Toscano-Anderson addressed the crowd shortly after 12:30 Wednesday, more than 500 people had gathered. Speaking into a megaphone, he said, “Before I played for the Golden State Warriors, I was an Oakland native. … I’m a black man. I’m half black and half Mexican, but I’m still a black man.”
Shortly thereafter, protesters laid down on their chests for eight minutes — matching the time officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck — as the cries now synonymous with that video rang through the crowd: “I can’t breathe!; I just want to go home!; I want to see my daughter!”
The group nearly doubled in size as it then marched around the lake. Unlike some similar protests that have unfolded in the Bay Area in recent days, “Walking in Unity” had no violence or major disturbances.
This was a memory that Toscano-Anderson won’t soon forget the scene — not just because he brought together his community for a cause he believes in, but because several teammates were there to show support. Toscano-Anderson was in the G League until he signed a contract with Golden State after February’s trade deadline. For players the caliber of Curry and Thompson, venturing out into public during such chaotic times brings certain risks.
“I’ve got people in the locker room who are not only going to stand up for what I stand up for, but who are actually going to stand up with me,” Toscano-Anderson said. “It’s a different feeling. I’d run through a wall for those guys now. That’s created a different bond on my end. I don’t say that lightly. I’d run through a wall for those guys now.”
The Warriors have long been league leaders in matters of social discourse. In recent months, Curry has continued assert himself as a respected voice on the coronavirus pandemic and racial inequality.
Last week, he posted a picture to Instagram of since-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck with the caption, “If this image doesn’t disturb you and piss you off, then (I don’t know). … George didn’t deserve to die. George pleaded for help and was just straight up ignored, which speaks loud and clear that his black life didn’t matter. George was murdered. George wasn’t human to that cop that slowly and purposefully took his life away.”
During an appearance Monday on “The Life Podcast” with Anthony Morrow and Justin Jack, Curry was visibly frustrated when he said, “Until people outside of our community speak up, use their platform, get uncomfortable and actually feel some type of emotional change to the issues, then we are just going to be in the same situation. That, to me, is the thing I’ve been watching on social media, if we can actually get some solutions.”
What Curry witnessed Wednesday at Lake Merritt should only buoy his hopes for social progress. As he marched with his wife, he saw a group that spanned generations and ethnicities trying to make sure Floyd’s death helps bring about change.
“I was a little nervous,” Toscano-Anderson said of helping organize Wednesday’s protest. “But just getting some feedback from different people, just seeing those guys, I’m like, ‘If I got Steph Curry out here with me, nobody trippin’. That’s just how I feel. I’m so much more confident in this walk and this cause, and this purpose now.”