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Will Barton (5) of the Denver Nuggets prepares to resume action against the Phoenix Suns during the fourth quarter of Denver’s 116-104 win on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019.
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Six years ago, Will Barton stood at the side of Portland star Damian Lillard, head bowed, hands clasped, donning an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt in commemoration of Eric Garner.

Five years ago, Barton gave speeches at the Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore, stirred into action after the incidents of police brutality rocked his hometown.

And now, as the NBA contemplates an unprecedented return amid a global pandemic and boiling racial unrest following the death of George Floyd when in the custody of Minneapolis police, the Nuggets’ veteran is beyond tired. Tired of witnessing the same cycle, over and over.

“I don’t see us going down there and wearing George Floyd T-shirts before the games and then after a game, being interviewed, saying we need to change,” Barton told The Denver Post in a wide-ranging interview. “I’ll tell you right now, I don’t really see that helping. I feel like it’s too late in the ballgame. We’ve been going through this for 400-plus years now. I feel like the only way for real change is going to come is a revolution.”

Barton brought up Juneteenth, last week’s holiday that celebrates the day in 1865 when the last slaves were informed of their freedom. “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights,” read a Union general’s military order, two and a half years after the emancipation proclamation.

“Here it is 2020, and we’re still doing peaceful protests and peaceful speeches for something that’s already a law, that’s already in place,” Barton said. “… To me, peaceful protesting and speeches and all that, I think it’s past that point. I don’t think us playing and wearing those T-shirts and all that is going to do it anymore. I don’t feel like that’s enough. I think a revolution is the only way at this point.”

Barton, while not calling for violence, distilled his message further by posing a hypothetical question he wanted all white people to ask themselves:

“If Black people in America were to say today, ‘We’re going to war. We’re going to war, not with white people, (but) with racist America. Would you stand and fight with Black people against racists or would you be out of the way? Would you put your life on the line for a black person for what’s right or what’s wrong?”

As the country reels from weeks of protests and braces for a possible second wave of the coronavirus, these are the issues that have seized Barton’s thoughts. He aired his grievances recently in a set of four searing Instagram posts that, among other things, invoked Abraham Lincoln, the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, the Supreme Court’s desegregation decision in 1954, John F. Kennedy, and Malcolm X.

In one post, Barton wrote: “Being defenseless and nonviolent can no longer be the only answer in the face of this cruel beast to ever take people in captivity.”

Later, under an image of his bowed head wearing the “I Can’t Breathe” shirt, Barton wrote: “I don’t care what color you are as long as you want to change these miserable conditions on this earth. What’s next? What else y’all want from us?”

Barton wasn’t on the now-infamous phone call with Brooklyn star Kyrie Irving, who organized a coalition of players questioning the merits of re-starting the season amid the current social climate. But when the topics of that discussion were relayed to him, Barton stood in lockstep with Irving and his premise.

“If the things that are true that came out about what he said about trying to organize the players and question what are we doing down there, how things are going to be done, and if we should actually go, I agree with him,” Barton said. “At the end of the day, with so much stuff going on in the world right now with a pandemic, racism, I feel like you have to question those things and challenge those things. I don’t think he did nothing wrong.”

What the NBA has planned for Orlando has Barton concerned. Not because he doesn’t want to play basketball and do all he can for the Nuggets to win a championship, but because there are bigger forces at play. Barton is worried that basketball may steer the conversation elsewhere. Any notion that basketball is any sort of cure-all is a fallacy, he said. What may prove to be a welcome distraction for those stuck at home may serve as a means to ignore the vital conversation being had in the country.

In a joint statement between the NBA and the NBPA released on Wednesday, the league said “the goal of the season restart in Orlando will be to take collective action to combat systemic racism and promote social justice.”

Barton, who spoke to The Denver Post before the NBA’s announcement, is nevertheless concerned.

“It’s almost going to fly under the radar after that,” Barton said. “Everyone’s going to be watching sports and talking about the playoffs and who they think is going to win and who’s playing well and who won it all. It’s going to take the focus off of the world and it’s going to put the focus on sports.”

Barton is determined not to let that happen.

“A revolution, you can put that in there, exactly what I said,” Barton said. “A revolution is the only way that I see it right now.”

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