The New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz, as well as coaches and referees, knelt during the playing of the national anthem ahead of the first game of the NBA restart on Thursday in a protest of systemic racism and police brutality:
After the game, Pelicans star Zion Williamson called it an "emotional" moment:
Malika Andrews of ESPN reported Wednesday that "league officials are not expected to enforce a 1981 anthem policy that says 'players, coaches and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line'" after reports emerged that the Pels and Jazz would gather together and kneel while surrounding Black Lives Matter lettering painted on the court during Thursday's anthem.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver confirmed the rule would not be upheld:
Both teams released statements following Thursday's protest:
NBA players have consistently used their platform in the bubble environment at Orlando's Walt Disney World Resort to keep the conversation focused on issues of social change and injustice.
Many have used media appearances and postgame press conferences to talk solely about those topics. Philadelphia 76ers star Tobias Harris said the following after a scrimmage vs. the Memphis Grizzlies last week:
"Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove need to be held accountable, and we need justice for Breonna Taylor. I'll continue to preach that message after every single game, so if you want to hear it, I'm always here to do interviews and use my platform in the best way possible, but those individuals need to be held accountable. And that's my message. We want Daniel Cameron to step up and arrest those names that I've just stated."
"[Shoulders] felt great, but I think most importantly, I take this time to give my condolences to the family of the Taylors, Breonna Taylor, rest in peace, George Floyd, rest in peace. There are so many others out there that have been brutally murdered by the hands of police. That is all I got—that is my message for everyone and that will continue to be my answer."
Many players have talked about having a responsibility to represent their communities and not letting the conversation shift away from the need for social reform.
"I think basketball is secondary, it's our job, obviously we have a responsibility to fulfill those obligations, but it's also our job to fulfill and protect our neighborhoods and protect the people who look like us and come from places like us and don't exactly have the same voices that we do," Portland Trail Blazers star CJ McCollum told reporters last week. "I think that's been something that's on all of our minds."
The NBA season resumed Thursday after a four-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.