Viewers tuning in to NBA games in the Orlando “bubble” cannot miss the large “BLACK LIVES MATTER” lettering across the center of league’s neutral courts. The on-court branding is just one of many social justice messages that have emerged during the league’s restart. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the actions the players have taken from Orlando:
Multiple players have used media availability time to remind the public that the investigation into the killing of Breonna Taylor has not yielded any arrests. CJ McCollum, Paul George, and Marcus Smart, among others, have all called for justice:
Paul George opens his press conference expressing condolences for Breonna Taylor’s death and calls for justice pic.twitter.com/ZWFM1hD56F— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) July 22, 2020
Taking a Knee
Many players, coaches, and staff are taking a knee during the national anthem before games — a sign of solidarity with the long-embattled Colin Kaepernick. The Blazers have participated in this symbolic gesture:
Notably, Gregg Popovich, Jonathan Isaac,and former Blazer Meyers Leonard have all chosen to stand during the national anthem for different reasons. Leonard had this to say on the topic:
“Some of the conversations I’ve had over the past three days, quite literally, have been the most difficult,” Leonard told The Associated Press prior to the game. “I am with the Black Lives Matter movement and I love and support the military and my brother and the people who have fought to defend our rights in this country.”
Leonard dealt with anxiety and sleeplessness for several days as he agonized over the decision. He explained his reasoning before Saturday to current teammates and several former ones, almost all of them Black – then stood near midcourt, hand over his heart, as the song blared.
“I am a compassionate human being and I truly love all people,” Leonard said. “I can’t fully comprehend how our world, literally and figuratively, has turned into Black and white. There’s a line in the sand, so to speak: `If you’re not kneeling, you’re not with us.’ And that’s not true.”
Melo, CP3, and DWade team up
In addition to raising awareness with words and gestures, some NBA players have created ways of financially backing social justice causes. Current Blazer Carmelo Anthony has teamed up with Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade to form the Social Change Fund.
My thing is just to make sure people feel comfortable with speaking on s— that they’re uncomfortable with and holding people accountable for not having those conversations, for not wanting to have those conversations. …
For me, I’m taking the gloves off. Whatever you want to talk about, let’s talk about it. That’s where I was at, which kind of translated to what I’m doing with my platform, having these conversations with people and bringing awareness to certain situations. Also, educating people. We haven’t been educated [on issues], and now we’re starting to want to be educated.
Kyrie Irving has also stood out, making financial commitments to a Breonna Taylor documentary, WNBA players, and a vegan food bank in recent weeks.
Names on Jerseys
As most fans have noticed, NBA players have the option to wear league approved messages on the backs of their jerseys in place of surnames.
CJ says he's wearing "Education Reform" on the back of his jersey. "That's something that we lack in certain communities. In the Black community, people of color, kids are at a disadvantage."— Sean Highkin (@highkin) July 6, 2020
Some players, however, have recoiled at the limits the league has placed on jersey messages. Jimmy Butler recently tried unsuccessfully to wear a jersey with no name during a game and LeBron James opted to wear his name on his jersey after not being consulted on what was included in the list of permissible statements.
Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Brown
Two players, in particular, have stood out for their statements during media interviews. Donovan Mitchell wore a bulletproof vest, and explained his reasoning in this video:
A statement - Donovan Mitchell has a bullet proof vest.— Taylor Rooks (@TaylorRooks) July 31, 2020
The vest features the name of numerous people killed because of police brutality.
He adds the quote “Am I next?” pic.twitter.com/wUp1QYYNQk
Jaylen Brown has long been one of the most outspoken players in the league on issues of social justice. Brown has not changed his tune in Orlando and recently gave reporters a history lesson in a post-game interview, adding another dimension to the pre-game kneeling protest:
Jaylen Brown dropped 30 today and helped the Celtics beat the Blazers— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 2, 2020
Immediately after, he talked to the media and addressed the racial implications of the national anthem
The players mentioned above are not the only ones advocating for social justice from Orlando. ESPN covered many of the other names last week in this article.