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Why some NBA players aren’t wearing social justice messages on their jerseys

Lakers forward Anthony Davis brings the ball up court during a game.
Lakers star Anthony Davis has chosen not to wear a social justice message on his jersey, saying he wants to honor his family by keeping his last name on his jersey.
(Kathy Willens / Associated Press)

When Anthony Davis considered the prospect of placing a social justice message on the back of his jersey, he felt conflicted.

On one hand, the Lakers star wanted to support equality and speak out in favor of racial justice. On the other hand, the name Davis means something to him, and representing his family mattered. He didn’t come to the decision lightly, but Davis stuck with his last name.

“Just holding my family name and representing the name on the back to go through this process and my name and people who’ve been with me through my entire career to help me get to this point,” Davis said. “While still kind of bringing up things that we can do for social injustice. Some guys chose to, some guys chose not. We’ll have a ton of ways to kind of represent what we stand for.”

Davis isn’t alone in his decision. While a majority of players around the league have chosen to use one of the 29 approved slogans the NBA provided in an effort to show support for social justice movements, a handful of players, including several stars, have chosen not to use a league- and union-approved message. During their first few days in the NBA’s bubble in Orlando, they have shared some of the reasons why.

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For Houston guard Austin Rivers, the decision was also very personal. Having grown up in the Orlando area while his father, Doc Rivers, coached the Magic, Austin felt connected to the story of Trayvon Martin. He was a Black teenager who was 17 when George Zimmerman pursued him while on neighborhood watch despite being told not to do so by law enforcement and fatally shot Martin.

“I’m gonna use my name. I wasn’t able to put Trayvon so,” Rivers said. “I do like some of the messages that they have. I’m very happy some of the players are using that but I wanted to go a different route.”

Lakers coach Frank Vogel says losing Rajon Rondo is huge, but believes other players such as Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma will step out to fill in the offensive hole.

Rivers’ teammate Tyson Chandler made the same decision.

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“I thought that would be a powerful statement,” he said about wanting to put Martin’s name on his jersey in place of Chandler. “… I felt like with his name on the back of a jersey it would remind people of lives that are cut short. We will never know what those lives could have become. I thought it would have been a nice gesture wearing it on the court and to the family, reminding people. That wasn’t one of the ones, though, so I’m going to keep my name on the back.”

The NBA and union decided not to use names of victims on jerseys. Part of the reason was to avoid deepening the pain of families whose loved ones’ names were not chosen. The approved list included words or phrases such as “Equality,” “How Many More,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Vote.”

Lakers wing Danny Green chose “How Many More.”

“It speaks out to how many more people of color are going to get killed or die at the hands of the force, of police brutality?” Green said. “How many more families are going to get denied housing? How many more black men and women are going to get denied certain job opportunities? The list goes on. But ‘How Many More?’ stands for just more than one thing.”

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Center JaVale McGee chose “Respect Us.” Guard Alex Caruso, the only white player on the team, chose “Black Lives Matter.” In 2019, Black players comprised 75% of the league.

While the players’ union was consulted on the choice of messages, the individual players were not. Lakers star LeBron James, in explaining why he chose to keep “James” on his jersey, noted that he wasn’t consulted on the list, and had some ideas of what he wanted to use.

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler had a different plan. He decided against using a preapproved slogan, but he also doesn’t want “Butler” on his jersey.

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“With no message, with no name, it’s going back to like who I was and if I wasn’t who I was today, I’m not different than anybody else of color,” Butler said. “I want that to be my message in the sense that just because I’m an NBA player, everybody has the same right no matter what. That’s how I feel about my people of color is that this is a thing we will do more action toward.”

Butler said he considered not playing in Orlando — a move that was talked about by players who worried about drawing attention away from social justice movements. Ultimately he saw value in being around a group of players who could share their stories and experiences with racism.

“Everybody here is with equality,” Butler said. “It’s real. It has to happen. There’s gotta be more action behind it.”


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