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Meyers Leonard: Use of Antisemitic Slur ‘The Biggest Mistake of My Life’

The NBA center reflects on the mistake that put him in the national spotlight and damaged his career.

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NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Miami Heat Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

While speaking with The Athletic’s Eric Nehm, former Portland Trail Blazers center Meyers Leonard, who signed a 10-day contract with the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, called his use of an antisemitic slur the biggest mistake of his life.

“It’s a mixed bag of emotions, for sure,” Leonard said. “It’s certainly the hardest two-year stretch I’ve ever had in my life, as an adult, as a man. The truth is — let’s just cut to it — I made a really big mistake, the biggest mistake of my life. It was an extremely difficult time because, first of all, just let me say to anybody who’s listening, I’m incredibly sorry. It was an ignorant mistake.

“But if anyone has followed what I’ve been up to off the floor in the Jewish community, I think they’ll see pretty clear that I’ve tried to go above and beyond to show my heart and who I am, that I’m very remorseful. I want to make it right day after day, week after week, coming up on two years (since) the mistake happened. I’ve learned so much about myself as a man, about the Jewish community, just maturing in general.”

The incident occurred on March 8, 2021, while Leonard was a member of the Miami Heat. Leonard was livestreaming “Call of Duty” on Twitch and used an antisemitic slur he later said he did not fully understand. He was fined $50,000 by the league and suspended for one week. Subsequently, he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 17 and waived on March 25.

Since then, Leonard has spent time with the Jewish community in an effort to atone for his mistake. Now 30, Leonard is still in his playing prime. He could be a valuable contributor in the deeper rotation of an NBA team.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer described Leonard as “a person of high character.” With Leonard’s contract expiring on March 3, he could remain with the Bucks, should he shine, or find himself on the free agent market once again.