On Monday night, the scene at Brooklyn's Barclays Center was surreal. Inside, Jay Z and Beyoncé mingled with Prince William and Kate, and outside, protestors flooded Atlantic Avenue in protest of a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold.
Before the Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers tipped off, Jay posed for a now-viral photo with Kevin Garnett, Deron William and other BK players, who were all wearing warmup shirts that read "I Can't Breathe" -- and a lot of planning and strategy went into that, as the New York Times has revealed.
There were meetings, phone calls and careful steps to make it all happen.
It all began with Derrick Rose
Rose wore a shirt emblazoned with "I Can't Breathe" before the Chicago Bulls' game last Saturday, and when LeBron James admitted that he wanted to find a similar shirt for himself during a press conference, the wheels started turning. Organizers of New York-based social justice organization, Justice League NYC, hatched a plan to get those shirts to James and other players. But they needed some help.
Jay Z reached out to LeBron James
Russell Simmons' political director, Michael Skolnik, reached out to Dream Hampton -- who worked with Jay Z on his autobiography "Decoded" -- because he needed to get in touch with Hov. Hampton put in a call to Jay, who then reached out to his buddy LeBron James. Jay also gave Skolnik's number to Nets' point guard, Deron Williams to keep the talks moving. Williams confirmed that he and other Nets players were absolutely down to wear the shirts.
T-shirts were custom printed
These shirts weren't scooped up on the corner. Justice League NYC had 82 extra large shirts made at NYC Customs printing shop in Long Island City, Queens. Now they needed to find a way inside the Barclays Center, since the NBA wanted to prevent players from wearing these shirts during their warms ups.
One brave security guard got the shirts inside Barclays Center
Major props are due to the bold security guard, who, at Deron Williams' request, met with a representative from Justice League NYC outside the Barclays Center at 6:30 p.m. The guard grabbed a box full of 38 T-shirts shortly before the game started, and delivered them to the Nets' locker room. (The remaining shirts were distributed to protestors outside).
There was another plan in place for the Cavaliers
While Jay Z and company helped to make this plan come together, Nets player Jarrett Jack (who previously played for the Cavaliers) did some planning of his own. He also had T-shirts created, and reached out to the Cavs' Kyrie Irving to ask if he wanted in on the plan. He did. Three shirts arrived an hour before the Nets and Cavs tip off, and they were worn by Jack, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
Then the world watched
It took a lot of planning and last minute scrambling to pull this off, but it was well worth the effort. The Nets and Cavaliers players hit the court in their "I Can't Breathe" warm up shirts, on a night when a million eyes were on this game. Not only were the Carters front row -- so were the British royal couple.
And the wave caught on
Jay Z didn't wear a shirt that night (Skolnik points out that the NBA player-sized tees would've run down to his knees) but he did request another 1,000 of the shirts to be made. It's unclear what the intended destination for the shirts was, but we did see Kobe Bryant and other Lakers players wearing "I Can't Breathe" shirts this week as well.
This deserves applause all around for a well-coordinated effort.