Sports

NBA Players Kneel During National Anthem, Wear BLM Shirts As Season Kicks Off

LeBron James said Thursday that he hopes he made Colin Kaepernick and the late Rep. John Lewis proud, the same week his voting rights group announced a major donation to help formerly incarcerated people in Florida vote.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers kneel with their teammates during the national anthem prior to the game against the LA Clippers at The Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on July 30, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers kneel with their teammates during the national anthem prior to the game against the LA Clippers at The Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on July 30, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

NBA players and coaches took a knee during the national anthem at season opener games Thursday night, wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts and calling attention to ongoing anti-racism protests in the U.S.

Players for the Utah Jazz, New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers, and LA Clippers all took a knee during the national anthem at their respective games. Last week, MLB players took a knee before the anthem was played on opening day. A few days later, WNBA players walked off the court during the anthem and dedicated their season to Breonna Taylor and the #SayHerName movement.

Lakers star LeBron James also paid tribute on Thursday night to Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player who first made headlines for his silent kneeling protest against police brutality and racism — and who has professionally suffered for it.

“I hope we made Kaep proud,” James said at a postgame news conference (the Lakers won against the Clippers, 103-101). “I hope we continue to make Kaep proud. Every single day I hope I make him proud on how I live my life, not only out on a basketball floor but off the floor.”

“You go back and look at any of his postgame interviews when he talked about why he was kneeling, it had absolutely nothing to do about the flag, had absolutely nothing to do about the soldiers, the men and women that keep our land free,” James said. “He explained that and the ears were uncomfortable. People never listened. They refused to listen. And I did. And a lot of my people in the Black community did listen. And we just thank him for sacrificing everything that he did to put us in a [situation where] today, even years later, to be able to have that moment like we did tonight.”

James has backed up his words with action: in June, he formed a nonprofit group called More Than A Vote with other athletes dedicated to fighting voter suppression. Last week, it announced a donation of $100,000 to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a fund that helps people with prior felony convictions pay off outstanding fees and fines — which they have to do in order to register to vote in Florida. Voting rights advocates have called the rule “a modern-day poll tax.”

“In the past when we’ve seen progress, we’ve let our foot off the gas a little bit,” James said in his postgame Q&A with media. “We can’t do that. We want to continue to keep our foot on the gas, continue to push forward, continue to spread love throughout America.”

NBA legend Michael Jordan on Thursday also announced a $1 million donation to the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People and Families Movement, a network of more than 50 civil rights and human rights groups. Half of that donation will go specifically to the Florida coalition. Jordan announced last month that he will donate $100 million total to various Black organizations including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Black Voters Matter.

James also paid tribute to the late congressman Rep. John Lewis, whose funeral was held in Atlanta on Thursday. Former President Barack Obama delivered a moving and passionate eulogy about Lewis’s legacy and laid out a blueprint for protecting voting rights.