ORLANDO — In the weeks and days leading up to the resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season, players and coaches from the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans discussed a plan to express themselves ahead of the first game on Thursday evening.
The plan that had been rumored — a presentation of some sort followed by all players kneeling during the national anthem — proved true just before the introduction of starting lineups.
Every Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans coach and player lined up along the sideline of the court as voices of players and coaches interspersed with sounds of protests played over the speakers in HP Field House. The sound clips from the players touched on racial injustice and the hope that equality could be reached as long as momentum is not lost.
“It’s taken a very long time to get this sort of momentum going. And it can’t be lost.” — San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich
As the players stood, all wearing black warmup shirts that read “Black Lives Matter,” Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell’s voice could be heard saying, “As an African American, if you can’t feel safe in your own home, where can you be safe?”
In between sounds of protesters chanting, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s voice rang out.
“It’s taken a very long time to get this sort of momentum going,” he said. “And it can’t be lost.”
Then, when the audio presentation ended, the in-arena announcer introduced the national anthem, a version recorded by artist Jon Batiste. Just before the first note, every coach and player from both teams kneeled in front of the words “Black Lives Matter,” painted in large block letters on the court.
Just before the game, Jazz coach Quin Snyder told reporters that numerous conversations between players, coaches, officials and the league had been had about the plans the teams had for a pregame demonstration of solidarity.
“It’s important for us to be unified and peacefully protest many of the things that are going on in our country right now,” he said. “And tonight we have an opportunity.”
Both the Jazz and Pelicans issued written statements following the players’ and coaches’ demonstration declaring support for each individual’s right to peacefully protest.
“The Utah Jazz are committed to advancing social justice and stand in support of the players, coaches and staff as they exercise their First Amendment rights, and use their voices, their experiences, and their platforms to peacefully express themselves,” the Jazz’s statement read. “We are a values-based organization and believe in the foundational principles of justice, equality, fairness, and economic empowerment. Our organization strives to be a unifying force in our communities, and we hope this time in our history can be a catalyst for positive change in a country we love.”
Although the NBA has a rule that requires players to stand during the anthem, commissioner Adam Silver released a statement saying that given the unique situation, the rule would not be enforced.
“I respect our teams’ unified act of peaceful protest for social justice and under these unique circumstances will not enforce our long-standing rule requiring standing during the playing of our national anthem,” Silver said.