Wearing shirts that reflect Black Lives Matter, the Grizzlies huddle up in the “bubble” in Orlando. (Photo: Grizzlies on Twitter)
TSD columnist Lee Eric Smith.

Despite being in the NBA’s “bubble” in Orlando, when news of the shooting of Jacob Blake Jr. in Kenosha, Wisc. ricocheted across the nation, it hit close to home for the Milwaukee Bucks.

After all, the Bucks play less than an hour’s drive from Kenosha, and that’s not even considering the 2018 incident in which Milwaukee police tasered a Bucks player for an otherwise minor infraction.

In protest to Blake’s shooting, the Bucks declined to play a playoff game against the Orlando Magic on Aug. 27, which eventually led to a “bubble shutdown” by the players. Later, after heated and emotional meetings among themselves, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association emerged with a list of agreed-upon objectives.

“We had a candid, impassioned and productive conversation yesterday between NBA players, coaches and team governors regarding next steps to further our collective efforts and actions in support of social justice and racial equality,” the league and the union said in a joint statement.

Among the next steps: A new social justice coalition featuring players, coaches and owners will be established, focusing on access to voting and advocating for police and criminal justice reform. Also, fans should expect TV breaks to include more messaging aimed at civic engagement and voting.

The players also asked that NBA arenas be opened as polling places for the Nov. 3 election. And while it appears the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic will open their arenas as polling locations in one form or another, Memphians won’t be voting at FedExForum this fall – though the Grizzlies made the offer just weeks after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.

“This past June, the Memphis Grizzlies proactively reached out to the Shelby County Election Commission to understand how we can best work together, including our proposing the use of FedExForum as a polling location,” the team said in a Aug. 28 statement.

“After careful consideration, the Election Commission determined the best course of action would be to continue their focus of driving voters to their local precincts in order to create the best opportunity for high voter turnout on Election Day.”

State law probably had something to do with it as well.

Under Section 2-3-102 of the Tennessee Code regarding voting precincts, “no voting precinct shall be established, created, consolidated, divided, or the boundaries otherwise altered unless ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction, by reason of an annexation or other change in the boundary of a county or municipality, or in accordance with subsection (b). Any precinct boundary that is altered in accordance with this subsection (a) shall coincide with a census block as designated by the United States census bureau in the latest federal decennial census.”

The law states that while Shelby County could indeed establish a new voting precinct “whenever public convenience or law requires it,” that precinct would need to be linked to a specific census tract. In other words, voters from other precincts wouldn’t be able to cast their ballots at FedExForum; only people in the same precinct could.

Instead, the Grizzlies will continue to help raise awareness and promote voter registration, the statement said.

“We will continue to encourage our fans to sign up as poll workers, and would encourage other local businesses to consider doing as the Grizzlies have done and provide a day of paid time off for employees who are willing to volunteer to work the polls,” the Grizzlies statement said.

“As our next step in this process, we will continue working with the Election Commission to identify opportunities, such as voter registration drives, to serve the Memphis and Shelby County community in advance of Election Day on Nov. 3.”

 Important links for Shelby County voters

* Anyone interested in serving as a poll worker on Election Day can find out more by visiting ShelbyVote.com/becoming-poll-worker.

* Shelby County residents can check their status and find their polling location by visiting https://tnmap.tn.gov/voterlookup/.

* Guidelines for absentee voting in Shelby County can be found at https://www.shelbyvote.com/voting-absent.