A pair of things have been top of mind leading up to the NBA’s restart on Thursday evening. For one, the league is putting this on during a pandemic, and as a result, it has organized a gigantic bubble in Orlando that includes frequent testing and a collection of protocols that are designed to keep everyone safe.
The other has been a commitment to social justice. This has long been at the forefront of the dialogue around basketball due to NBA and WNBA players using their platforms to push for a better tomorrow, but it has been even more prominent in recent months due to the killings of Black individuals like Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. Much has been made of how the NBA and its players would respond, and while we’ve seen some examples of this — social justice messages across the backs of uniforms, Black Lives Matter written on the court at Disney, major financial pledges, etc. — all eyes were on how players would use the platform they had on Thursday evening to make a statement.
There had been rumblings that something was in the cards for the opener between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Utah Jazz, and prior to that game’s tip, everyone involved in the game wore a Black Lives Matter shirt and took a knee while a pre-recorded version of the national anthem by Jon Batiste played. The players, in many instances, held hands or locked arms with their heads down, and were joined by the evening’s referees in a show of solidarity. In the middle of demonstration were head coaches Alvin Gentry and Quin Snyder locking arms with one another.
Pelicans & Jazz kneel together during National Anthem before NBA Bubble opener pic.twitter.com/kDttXEKI7o
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) July 30, 2020
Every single person on the court takes a knee before the national anthem in protest of racial injustice. pic.twitter.com/xRjGt7PvG9
— Taylor Rooks (@TaylorRooks) July 30, 2020
While the NBA has a rule on its books saying players must stand during the anthem, it is hard to imagine a scenario where the league uses it here, in large part because it would (correctly, to be clear) come off as tone deaf following a peaceful demonstration. There is no word on whether a similar demonstration is in the cards for the second game of the evening, which is a tilt between the Clippers and the Lakers.