If Garrett Temple had been healthy, this would have been a tough game for him to play.
His body would have been on the court, but his conscience would be outside with the protesters who had blocked the entrances to Golden 1 Center. They were demonstrating over the death of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by Sacramento police Sunday.
The tipoff would be delayed about 20 minutes, and the result – the Kings beat the Atlanta Hawks 106-90 – would be an afterthought.
Temple, one of the NBA's more politically engaged players, said he agreed "100 percent" with the protest, and, "If I didn't have a job to do, I'd probably be out there with them, peacefully protesting because what's going on has to stop, it has to stop."
"I think the protest did what it was supposed to do," said Temple, who had a walking boot on his left foot because of a sprained ankle. "It brought light to what's going on; I think that's what protests are for. And after that something has to change. Us not playing a basketball game isn't going to change that police ... unfortunately view black and brown men as a threat when they certainly are not."
Because of the protest, most of the fans were unable to get into the game. About 2,000 fans entered and were invited to sit in the lower bowl that holds 10,500. They watched the game begin without player introductions or a national anthem performance.
For some players, it was a struggle to take the court.
“Just thinking about us African Americans playing and should we play the game or not, or under these circumstances, but it’s tough," said Atlanta guard Tyler Dorsey. "At the end of the day, it’s basketball, but it’s bigger than basketball. It’s just best for us to play the game, but it’s bigger than that. It was definitely on our minds probably the whole time.”
During the game, players talked about what was going on outside, said Kings forward Vince Carter.
"We had multiple conversations," Carter said. "And when I say we, I mean both teams, with each other. We have a game to play, we have a job to do, but it didn't go unnoticed."
After the game, Kings principal owner and chairman Vivek Ranadive addressed the crowd, calling Clark's death "horrific" and expressing sympathy on behalf of the organization.
Ranadive spoke at midcourt, surrounded by the team and members of the front office, including general manager Vlade Divac.
"We recognize that it’s not just business as usual, and we are going to work really hard to bring everybody together to make the world a better place, starting with our own community," Ranadive said. "And we’re going to work really hard to prevent this kind of a tragedy from happening again.”
The protest brought national attention to a game where the only implication beyond Thursday would be the teams' positions in the NBA draft lottery.
Kings rookie Justin Jackson scored a game-high 20 points, but said the delay threw everyone off their routine.
"And then it even throws you off going out there and seeing all those seats empty, and you know why," Jackson said. "It was definitely tough; I think we did a good job of trying to stay as locking in as we could and glad we came out with the win.”
Both teams understood the game took a back seat to the reason behind the protest.
“I think basketball was secondary tonight," said Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer. "I think what’s happening in Sacramento and the concerns and thoughts are with everybody. The guys played hard tonight and competed. I think that the crowd that was here appreciated them.”
Temple said he is friends with Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn and that he was glad the video of the shooting had already been released.
Temple acknowledges he's not an expert in police practices, but wants to talk to Hahn about concerns over incidents such as the Clark shooting.
Temple also knows some people would prefer to keep sports and politics separate. But he said Thursday showed how that connection can bring more attention to important issues.
"To those that say politics and sports don't intertwine, this is a democracy, people have a voice and we're people at the end of the day," Temple said. "Obviously today sports and politics intertwined tonight. The protesters did what they wanted to do in terms of bringing light to the situation. A lot of people wouldn't have known about it if they basically hadn't delayed and then changed the environment of a basketball game."