LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Last week, as the NBA was gearing up for a historic season resumption after a four-month hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, President Donald Trump issued a warning on his Twitter account that kneeling during the playing of the national anthem would be a “sign of great disrespect” and added the game would be “over for me!”
On Thursday, the opening day of the restart, all four teams that played — the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans — kneeled in solidarity around the “Black Lives Matter” logo on the court to peacefully protest racial injustice and police brutality.
Even the referees participated in the demonstration.
Trump has a strong, sizable base, one that could follow his lead and potentially cause a decline in NBA ratings.
Pelicans sharpshooter J.J. Redick, a white player who is wearing the social justice message “Say Their Names” on the back of his jersey, has long been an ally of his Black teammates and has voiced his disdain for the injustices people of color face in America, had this response to Trump’s warning.
“First of all, I don’t think anybody in the NBA cares if President Trump watches basketball. I couldn’t care less,” Redick told Yahoo Sports on Thursday night after a 106-104 loss to the Jazz. “As far as his base, I think regardless of the specificity of tweeting about the NBA, every tweet of his is meant to divide, every tweet is meant to incite, every tweet is meant to embolden his base. So [last week] was no different.”
The NBA has been criticized by the president and by elected officials and fans for allowing players to inject “politics” into a sphere intended for entertainment. Players would argue these issues are not politics; they’re a matter of human rights — inequalities that they’ve experienced and that have gone unresolved for hundreds of years.
The tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other people of color at the hands of law enforcement is what has intensified the “Black Lives Matter” movement to the point where people of all walks of life, all around the country, have felt an obligation to protest on behalf of the oppressed.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver issued a statement shortly after the Jazz and Pelicans peacefully protested: “I respect our teams’ unified act of peaceful protest for social justice and under these unique circumstances will not enforce our long-standing rule requiring standing during the playing of our national anthem.”
While kneeling, LeBron James raised his right hand with a balled fist as a salute to “Black power.” It was reminiscent of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two African American track and field stars who raised up their fists at the medal ceremony during the anthem in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
James is aware that he and his colleagues will be condemned for their vocal positions and demonstrations.
“There’s always going to be people who don’t agree with what you’re doing,” James said following a 103-101 victory over the Clippers. “No matter what you do in life, you’re always going to have people try to pick apart whatever you do. If you’re passionate and true and authentic to whatever your cause is, then it doesn’t matter. I couldn’t care less about the naysayers. I’ve been hearing it for too long.”
In the Disney bubble, teams are expected to continue this method of peaceful protesting during the anthem. For some fans, it will turn them off, while others might listen with an open mind and still others will wholeheartedly support the call for change.
It has been stressed over and over by players, and most notably Colin Kaepernick, that kneeling was never about disrespecting the flag or the troops who serve this country. (Kneeling was even suggested to Kaepernick by a former Green Beret.) It’s about holding this great country accountable for the injustices plaguing the Black community.
James said he hoped Kaepernick was proud of the players’ demonstration, which recognizes him as the pillar of this movement.
Regardless, the backlash will come. Will the NBA be able to withstand the economic hit? We shall all see.
“Look, we want people to enjoy the NBA and we love our fans, but I think there has to be some level of acceptance and acknowledgement in what our league is saying, what our league is doing and what is happening across this country,” Redick told Yahoo Sports. “And the people who are unwilling to acknowledge that, maybe they shouldn’t be fans.”