Meyers Leonard Eyes NBA Return After Use of Antisemitic Slur: I Made a 'Huge Mistake'

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 31, 2023

ORLANDO, FL - JULY 14: Meyers Leonard #0 of the Miami Heat shoots the ball during practice as part of the NBA Restart 2020 on July 14, 2020 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Meyers Leonard, who hopes to return to the NBA, opened up during an interview with ESPN's Jeremy Schaap for Outside the Lines about his use of an antisemitic slur.

"I feel like I'm living in a bad dream," he said of the 2021 incident in which he used an antisemitic slur during a video game live stream. "... There's not a hateful cell in my body. And I know that I made a huge, huge mistake."

The NBA's punishment included a one-week suspension, a $50,000 fine and a requirement that he participate in a cultural diversity program.

"There are absolutely no excuses for what happened that day," Leonard said. "And ignorance, sadly, is a very real thing. ... I am not running from this, but I did not know that it happened."

The big man was a member of the Miami Heat at the time, but they traded him to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the aftermath. OKC released him before he ever played a game, and he has not appeared in an NBA contest since January 2021.

Leonard said he didn't "know the history or meaning" of the slur. He also said part of his efforts after using the slur included meeting with Jewish organizations and seeking counseling from two rabbis.

His use of an antisemitic slur is not the only reason he hasn't played the past two seasons.

Leonard underwent ankle surgery in 2021 and posted a message in April revealing complications from the procedure damaged his nerves and left his basketball future in doubt. However, he said the nerves "miraculously" started to regenerate, which is why he is eyeing a potential comeback.

The Illinois product turns 31 in February and has been away from the game for a significant amount of time, but Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported this month that he worked out with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Los Angeles didn't sign him, but it was notable from a team that could use frontcourt depth with Anthony Davis' durability always a question mark.

Leonard was a first-round pick in the 2012 NBA draft and has played for the Heat and Portland Trail Blazers. He was never more than a role player and sports career averages of 5.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.