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Activism returns to the NBA

Players express their opinions on the court after U.S. Capitol riots

Most of the Boston Celtics players kneel during the national anthem before a game against the Miami Heat on Jan. 6. Associated Press/Photo by Marta Lavandier

Activism returns to the NBA

In an October interview with ESPN, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver described the summer of 2020 as “an extraordinary moment” in U.S. history that justified allowing some on-court activism by players.

“My sense is there will be somewhat a return to normalcy—that those messages will largely be left to be delivered off the floor,” Silver said. But last week brought another extraordinary moment when a group of Trump supporters rioted at the U.S. Capitol, and the NBA showed it’s not ready to go back to normal just yet.

In years past, the NBA required players and coaches to stand for the pre-game national anthem. After this past summer’s protests against racism and police brutality, the league suspended the requirement. The pandemic forced the NBA to suspend its season in March. When it resumed July 30, with all games played at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, Black Lives Matter messaging featured prominently on the court and on players’ jerseys.

On Wednesday, in the wake of the events at the Capitol, most players and coaches for the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics decided to kneel during the national anthem before their game. The Golden State Warriors wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts and knelt during the anthem alongside their opponents, the Los Angeles Clippers. The Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons suffered a pair of turnovers when both teams decided to take a knee after the game had started.

Before the game in Miami, the Heat and Celtics issued a joint statement saying they would play the night’s game “with a heavy heart.” The statement mentioned disappointment at the lack of charges against the officer who shot Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., and frustration with the police’s alleged disparate treatment of protesters.

Players haven’t been silent off the court, either. Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers tweeted, “An absolute disgrace what’s happening at the U.S. Capitol right now. And a blatant example of inequity in how law enforcement chooses to deal with those involved.” Lakers superstar Lebron James posted a picture of himself in a shirt “Do you understand now?” that included a caption saying, “2 AMERIKKKAS we live in.”

As of midday Tuesday, Silver had not commented on the players’ recent actions.

Collin Garbarino

Collin is WORLD’s arts and culture editor. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University and resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.



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