Players and coaches took a knee during the US national anthem as the NBA season restarted at Disney World in Florida on Thursday, July 30 (Friday, July 31, Philippine time).
Players from the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans wearing t-shirts bearing the slogan “Black Lives Matter” kneeled in unison just before tip-off as the Star-Spangled Banner played.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said players who kneel during the US national anthem will not be punished under longstanding league rules.
In a brief statement issued after the incident, Silver confirmed players would not be sanctioned.
The NBA has a several-decades-old rule requiring players to stand during the pregame anthem rituals.
But Silver said the rule would be waived given the “unique” nature of the ongoing calls for social justice which erupted after the death of unarmed black man George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
“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,” Silver said in a statement.
Four months after the league shut down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA is restarting its season with 22 teams based inside a secure “bubble.”
The unprecedented NBA experiment began on Thursday with the Utah Jazz defeating the New Orleans Pelicans 106-104 in an empty arena at the resort’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
The first and last points of the game were scored by Utah’s Rudy Gobert — the Frenchman whose COVID-19 case triggered the NBA’s shutdown in March.
LeBron James then led the Los Angeles Lakers to a pulsating 103-101 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in the day’s second game.
Both games started with players – wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” – kneeling in unison as the Star-Spangled Banner played.
“It’s an opportunity to use this platform to spread a lot of positives, a lot of love throughout the course of the whole world,” Lakers star James said afterwards.
“We understand what’s going on in society right now and we’re using this NBA platform as players as coaches and as an organisation to stand strong on that. This is a good start.”
The resumption of the NBA follows a period of soul-searching about racism and police brutality in the United States following the death of unarmed black man George Floyd during his arrest by police on May 25 in Minneapolis.
Many NBA players joined protests against the killing which swept across all 50 states in June, and the cause of social justice has loomed large ahead of the league restart.
Large “Black Lives Matter” slogans have been written on each court, while players are allowed to wear jerseys adorned with social justice messages ranging from “I Can’t Breathe” to “Justice Now” and “Education Reform.”
Taking a knee has become an emblematic way of showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement, adopted by athletes around the world in the months since Floyd’s death.
Kneeling during the US national anthem was first started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016.
Kaepernick used the gesture to draw attention to racial injustice after the deaths of several African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement.
The 49ers quarterback was widely vilified for his stance and has not played in the NFL since being released by San Francisco in early 2017.
The NBA had had a longstanding rule requiring players to stand for the national anthem before games.
“We’ve had a rule in place for a long time that requires players to stand,” Silver told CNN. “I will say though that I do respect peaceful protest… I understand this is a unique moment in our history.”
The NBA is relaunching its season with 22 teams based in a secure zone at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex inside the sprawling Disney World resort.
Utah’s game against New Orleans will be followed later Thursday by a heavyweight showdown between the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers.
Thursday’s games marked a resumption of regular season play to determine the final lineup for the NBA playoffs, which start on August 17.
The tightly-controlled “bubble” setting in Orlando is designed to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 halting play once more.
Players in the bubble are required to undergo regular COVID-19 testing and the ability to enter and exit the secure zone is subject to stringent regulations.
Team and NBA personnel are staying in 3 hotels dotted throughout the resort, with a small number of media, sponsors and inactive players also allowed in. – Rappler.com