The NBA has officially started again after being suspended in March as the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, and it began with a major statement about social justice, racial equality and the right to peacefully protest.
The Los Angeles Lakers faced the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday, July 30, in Orlando’s Walt Disney World Resort, and all players, coach and staff knelt for the national anthem, which was performed by musician and activist Jon Batiste. Some of the players locked arms, others put their hands around each other’s soldiers and some raised a fist.
The kneeling, done to make a statement about racial inequality, took place behind large letters that read Black Lives Matter, and all players wore Black Lives Matter shirts.
In Thursday’s previous game featuring the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans, both teams, their coaches and staff protested in the same way before tipoff.
Nationwide protests sparked after George Floyd died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May. Some NBA players joined those marches, while others have supported them on social media.
When the NBA announced in June that play would resume in Florida, some players voiced concern that playing would take away attention from the current fight for racial equality. Perhaps starting both games on Thursday by kneeling was the players’ way of showing that social justice comes before basketball.
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James spoke about kneeling directly after the game and said basketball is far more than just a sport or form of entertainment.
“The game of basketball has always been bigger than just a ball and a rim and 10 guys on the floor, four referees,” he explained. “We used this platform to spread a lot of positive, a lot of love throughout the course of the whole world.”
Kneeling for the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality was started by Colin Kaepernick, who began doing it in 2016 while playing for the San Francisco 49ers.
For many, Kaepernick became a hero for protesting and seeming to sacrifice his football career, while others considered him a villain and someone who was disrespecting the American flag and U.S. military.
Kaepernick, who hasn’t played in the NFL since the end of the 2016 season, often said that his kneeling was about protesting racism, not the flag or the military. But many decided to create their own narrative about what his kneeling meant instead of taking what he said at face value.
James spoke about Kaepernick in the locker room and how the quarterback-turned-activist truly inspires him.
“I hope we continue to make Kaep proud,” James told reporters. “Every single day I hope I make him proud on how I live my life, not only on the basketball floor, but off the floor. I want to always speak out about things that I feel like are unjust. I always want to be educated on things and always go about it that way.”
“Kap was someone who stood up when times wasn’t comfortable, when people didn’t understand, people refused to listen to what he was saying,” James went on. “If you go back and go look at any of his postgame interviews when he was talking about why he was kneeling, it had absolutely nothing to do about the flag. It had absolutely nothing to do with the soldiers, the men and women that keep our land free.
“He explained that and the ears were closed, people never listened, they refused to listen, but I did, and a lot of people in the Black community did listen, and we just thank him for him sacrificing everything that he did to put us in a position today, even years later, to be able to have that moment like we had tonight,” said James.
The Lakers beat the Clippers 103-101 after James followed his own miss and put up the game-winning shot. He then shut down the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the defensive end to secure the victory.
Zion Williamson and the Pelicans were beaten 106-104 by the Jazz in their game.