Julius Randle (300588)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

As a leader of young Black men, it was inevitable that Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau would be compelled to address the verdict in the case of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, charged with the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd.

Early Tuesday evening, roughly one hour after Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over the trial of Chauvin, read the jury’s decision, guilty on all three counts—one charge each of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter—Thibodeau met with media for his regular pregame press conference via Zoom before the Knicks faced the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden and spoke about the outcome.

“The players are just filtering in now, so I haven’t had a chance to speak with them yet, but obviously we’re pleased that justice was served,” Thibodeau said. “Your heart goes out to the Floyd family because there’s nothing you can do to bring him back. Obviously in society, this is no place for racism or bigotry. We have to do better. As a country, we have to do better.”

Thibodeau knows the social and racial climate of the Minneapolis area well, having been the head coach and president of basketball of the Minnesota Timberwolves from April 20, 2016 to January 6, 2019. During that period, the city drew global attention with the controversial and polarizing killings of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old Black man, by police officer Jeronimo Yanez, in July of 2016, in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, and one year later, on July 17, 2017, the shooting death of Justine Diamond, a 40-year-old Australian-American woman, by Somali-American Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor.

Black athletes across the broad sports spectrum have heeded a clarion call for them to exert their influence on racial and social justice issues in this seminal term in America’s relatively young history. It was a backdrop for the Knicks’ 109-97 victory over the Hornets, their seventh straight in what continues to be an unforeseen rise as one of the Eastern Conference’s most competitive teams.

The win streak is the longest for the Knicks since they took eight in a row in March 2014. Oddly, that stretch was preceded by seven consecutive losses and the team ended the season 37-45. This group was 32-27 and the No. 5 overall seed in the East when they hosted the Atlanta Hawks last night (April 21) at the Garden.

“The important thing for us is not to get lost. You start looking into the playoffs, win streaks, you lose focus on getting ready for Atlanta,” said Thibodeau on Tuesday. The pragmatic coach has the franchise in its most favorable position since the 2012-’13 team finished the regular season 54-28. “That’s where our focus has to be. We just go day-by-day, step-by-step, and if we’re taking care of all the things we need to take care of, then all of the other stuff will take care of itself. And it’s easy to get knocked off course.”

The Knicks’ All-Star forward Julius Randle has stayed locked in. After averaging 35.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists over four games last week, on Monday he was named the NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week. The Knicks will be at MSG for their next three games to meet up with the Toronto Raptors on Saturday, the Phoenix Suns on Monday and the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.