MIAMI — Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were only a few miles away from Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, participating in the NBA All-Star game on the night the unarmed black teenager wearing a hooded sweatshirt was shot to death by a neighborhood crime-watch volunteer.
They never knew the teenager, but on Friday they decided it was time to speak out – as did many others around the NBA.
Wade posted a photo of himself from a previous photo shoot wearing a hooded shirt, otherwise known as a hoodie, to his Twitter and Facebook pages on Friday morning.
A couple hours later, James posted another photo – this one of 13 Heat players, all wearing team-logo hoodies, their heads bowed, their hands stuffed into their pockets. The photo was taken at the team hotel, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called it “a powerful statement.”
“As a father, this hits home,” said Wade, who has 10- and 4-year-old sons.
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Among the hashtags James linked to the team photo: “WeWantJustice.” The National Basketball Players Association issued a statement saying it was saddened and horrified by the killing, demanded an arrest and accused the police department in Sanford, Fla. – where Martin was shot – of “racial bias.”
“It really is a tragic story,” Spoelstra said. “And the more you learn about it, the more confused you get.”
Martin was killed as he was returning to a gated community, carrying candy and iced tea. The neighborhood crime-watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, said he acted in self-defense. He has not been arrested, though state and federal authorities are still investigating.
“This situation hit home for me because last Christmas, all my oldest son wanted as a gift was hoodies,” Wade told The Associated Press on Friday from Auburn Hills, Mich., hours before the Heat defeated the Detroit Pistons. “So when I heard about this a week ago, I thought of my sons. I’m speaking up because I feel it’s necessary that we get past the stereotype of young, black men and especially with our youth.”
Protests have popped up nationwide in recent days, with thousands of people – many of them wearing hoodies – calling for action.
“Our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of Trayvon Martin for their loss and for everyone involved in this terrible tragedy,” the Heat said in a statement Friday afternoon. “We support our players and join them in hoping that their images and our logo can be part of the national dialogue and can help in our nation’s healing.”
Wade and James decided Thursday to make their reactions about the Martin situation public, and James felt the best way to do that was the team photo with everyone wearing hoodies.
“It was very emotional, an emotional day for all of us,” James said. “Taking that picture, we’re happy that we’re able to shed light on the situation that we feel is unjust.”
The Heat tributes did not end with the photos that Wade and James attached to their social media accounts. Several Heat players, including Wade and James, took the floor Friday night with messages such as “RIP Trayvon Martin” and “We want justice” scrawled on their sneakers.
“I couldn’t imagine if my son went to a store just to get some Skittles and a pop or iced tea and they didn’t come home,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. “We’ve been following the story individually very closely. It’s just unfortunate. We just feel like something needed to be done about it. It’s only right. It’s only fair. … I think it’s at least a start in the right direction.”
Other tributes were going on in NBA arenas on Friday night. Carmelo Anthony tweeted a photo of himself in a gray hoodie, with the words “I am Trayvon Martin!!!!!” over the picture, and his New York Knicks’ teammate Amare Stoudemire – a central Florida native – arrived for his team’s game in Toronto wearing a hooded sweater. Stoudemire also wore a gray hoodie while working out long before tip-off.
“That’s not too far from where I grew up in Orlando,” Stoudemire said of Sanford, where Martin was shot. “So it’s really a touchy situation because you want to have positive community leaders.”
Earlier Friday, Fox News Channel commentator Geraldo Rivera said on “Fox & Friends” the hoodie Martin wore when he was killed was as much responsible for his death as the man who shot him. Rivera later said his comment was “politically incorrect.”
Separately, a Florida state lawmaker, Rep. Alan Williams, a Democrat from Tallahassee, called upon the Heat stars and other NBA players to wear hoodies during pregame warmups. Such a move would not be permitted under the NBA’s uniform policy, though the tributes such as messages on sneakers are allowed.
“When you see Trayvon, when you see that image, he could be anybody’s kid, black or white, Hispanic, Asian, what have you,” Williams said in a telephone interview. “Basketball is a sport that kind of transcends race and class and all those things that divide us.”
The NBPA called not only for Zimmerman’s “prompt arrest,” but a review of the Sanford Police Department, saying its “silence in the face of this injustice is reprehensible.”
“We had a discussion about whether or not it was the right thing to do as a board and we had enough of our members that decided it was OK to put together a statement,” union president Derek Fisher said.
“I haven’t seen the statement just yet, but overall I hope at least that the sentiment was just that whether it’s Trayvon Martin or any young person in this country, if something happens that justice prevails and that there’s a full investigation and everything that can be looked into is looked into. Law enforcement will do the best job they can obviously to find a resolution. It’s a tragedy and very unfortunate. I think we all should just continue to pray for Trayvon’s family and continue to give them support.”