LeBron James says he won’t wear social justice message on his jersey
Some NBA players say the limited options made them feel it was an empty gesture
As the NBA prepared for its restarted season at the end of the month, many of its players wanted assurances that they could use their platform, and jersey, to continue advancing the social justice agenda inspired by June’s Black Lives Matter protests.
After the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, some NBA players reportedly led by Brooklyn Nets Kyrie Irving, said they were reconsidering playing in the coronavirus ‘bubble’ in Orlando so as not to derail the national conversation on race.
As part of the compromise worked out, players from the 22 participating teams agreed to a selection of social justice phrases they could wear in place of their names on their jerseys. The phrases, worked out with the NBA players union are Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can’t Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.
Union president Chris Paul told Deadine that “We’re just trying to continue to shed light on the different social justice issues that guys around our league continue to talk about day in and day out. People are saying that social justice will be off of everybody’s mind in Orlando. With these jerseys, it doesn’t go away.”
But the league’s reigning superstar Lebron James says he won’t be one of the players wearing a message when play resumes on July 30th.
“I actually didn’t go with a name on the back of my jersey,” James said to the media on a video conference call. “It’s no disrespect to the list that was handed out to all the players. I commend anyone that decides to put something on the back of their jersey. It’s just something that didn’t really seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal.”
Fans were surprised by James’ choice, as he’s been one of the league’s most outspoken players on matters of social justice. He says that he just didn’t feel that it was impacful or that wearing one of the phrases, something he said he had no input in choosing, matched up with the racial justice he’s already advocated for.
“I would have loved to have a say-so on what would have went on the back of my jersey,” James said in the conference. “I had a couple things in mind, but I wasn’t part of that process, which is okay.
He added, “Everything that I do has a purpose, has a meaning, so I don’t need to have something on the back of my jersey for people to understand my mission or know what I’m about and what I’m here to do.”
Teammate Anthony Davis will also keep his name on his jersey. The NBA has planned to paint ‘Black Lives Matter’ down a street in the Orlando Wide World of Sports complex players are sequestered in until the season ends no later than October.
While there, players and team staffers must adhere to a 113-page document of coronavirus protocols which limit their ability to move freely inside and outside of the complex.
As of yesterday, two players in the bubble had tested positive and two others were in quarantine because they briefly left the bubble, one to pick up a food delivery.
The Premier League, soccer’s international league, returned without fans on June 17th and without incident. Major League Soccer in the U.S. has struggled with entire teams like the Dallas Stars pulling out due to players testing positive for coronavirus.
Have you subscribed to theGrio’s new podcast “Dear Culture”? Download our newest episodes now!