The NBA officially returned to play on Thursday with the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz kicking off the season restarts and the Los Angeles Lakers beating the LA Clippers in their first game since March.
Prior to both games, players and coaches knelt during the playing of the national anthem in a show of solidarity for ongoing protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Following the win, the Lakers’ LeBron James was asked to reflect on the NBA-wide decision to kneel during the anthem and he made sure to give all credit to Colin Kaepernick:
LeBron James on Lakers & NBA players following Colin Kaepernicks’s lead by kneeling: “I hope we made Kaep proud.” pic.twitter.com/th0ysPBdsj
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) July 31, 2020
“Kaep was someone who stood up when times weren’t comfortable. When people didn’t understand..it had absolutely nothing to do about the flag he explained that and people never listened. I did! We just thank him for sacrificing everything that he did.” – LeBron James
— Laurantine (@LoJoMedia) July 31, 2020
Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, made waves in 2016 when he sat and later knelt on the sideline during the playing of the national anthem to protest ongoing racism and police violence against the Black community. He was met with vitriol by many and was eventually blackballed out of the NFL. He has not played since that season though he has continued to be a leading voice in his movement.
When NBA players considered kneeling in solidarity with Kaepernick back then, NBA commissioner Adam Silver sent out a memo reminding them of a long-standing rule dictating that players must stand for the anthem. Years prior, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf had effectively been shunned by the league for his own protests during the national anthem.
This time around, Silver has said the NBA will not enforce that rule and players have made it clear they are united in their decision to kneel prior to games around a Black Lives Matter decal on the court.
James, in particular, has predictably been vocal about the state of the country done y arriving in Orlando, previously using a post-scrimmage press conference to call for justice for Breonna Taylor and talk about his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement. He has also routinely shown his support for Kaepernick over the past four years.