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NBA players take a knee in protest of racial inequality during national anthem

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, second from left, wears a Black Lives Matter shirt.
Lakers teammates (from left) Quinn Cook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis take a knee along with Clippers coach Doc Rivers during the national anthem before Thursday’s game in Orlando.
(Mike Ehrmann / Associated Press)

As the Compton Kidz Club sang the final stanza of the Star Spangled Banner, LeBron James, kneeling, unlocked his arm from Quinn Cook’s and raised his right fist into the air. When the song ended, he pounded on his chest three times before pointing upward.

“We wanted to make sure we did something that the league, the NBPA and the NBA and all the players just came to a consensus that just had a consensus that kneeling was best — something we could do as a league and be unified,” Anthony Davis said. “We go out here and play — not for us, but for everything that’s going on around the world.”

Before the NBA’s two games in Orlando on Thursday, every player, coach and referee stood side by side behind block lettering that read “Black Lives Matter.” They then kneeled when the national anthem began to play. Players for the Lakers, Clippers, Jazz and Pelicans wore T-shirts with the words “Black Lives Matter.”

“Tonight we witnessed sober, powerfully moving and heartfelt demonstrations by our players of their commitment to the pursuit of justice,” Michele Roberts, the NBPA’s executive director, tweeted. “Very proud.”

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he would not enforce a league rule requiring players to stand for the national anthem.

“I respect our teams’ unified act of peaceful protest for social justice,” he said in a statement.

The national anthem standing rule predates Silver — in 1996 Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended for not standing during the national anthem.

Jazz and Pelicans players took a knee as New Orleans musician Jon Batiste played the first half of the national anthem on a piano and the second half on a guitar.

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It was a movement led by NBA players who entered the league’s restart wanting to find ways to speak about and discuss messages of social justice and racism.

Thursday’s pregame display also included elements planned by the league and the players’ union.

Before the national anthem, Pelicans and Jazz players stood shoulder to shoulder while watching a montage or players and coaches discussing issues of social justice.

“Right now I would say I feel disturbed,” Portland guard Damian Lillard said in the montage.

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“We don’t think that we’re better,” Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said. “We want to be seen as equals. To this point we haven’t.”

“Things aren’t gonna change until we sort of make them change,” Thunder guard Chris Paul said.

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“And we will,” Nuggets guard Jamal Murray said. He was immediately followed by Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell who said: “Make change.”

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Their words interspersed with images from the protests this summer. The protests began after George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck. Several NBA players participated in protests around the country, and their images were shown in the video.


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