The re-start of the 2019-2020 NBA season got off to a highly competitive start Thursday night with two games that went down to the wire and ended in spectacular fashion. But while some pro basketball fans took to social media to express their happiness with the NBA’s return from a months-long suspension because of the coronavirus, others couldn’t seem to get past the fact that every last one of the players kneeled during the playing of the national anthem before the game started.
In fact, for one apparent now-former fan of the Los Angeles Lakers — which edged their crosstown rivals Clippers by two points as time expired, thanks to the late-game heroics of LeBron James — seeing the players (and coaches and referees) kneel proved to be his breaking point, prompting him to record video footage of himself burning two jerseys out of anger.
But before we go there, back to the kneeling, which, to anyone paying attention, should not have been a surprise at all for multiple reasons. Media reports beginning early last month indicated NBA players were not only becoming more vocal about social justice following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but they were also planning to kneel.
As the face of the NBA, LeBron has been one of the most vocal of all players. On Thursday night, he let his actions do the talking for him on the court by first kneeling alongside his teammates before leading his team to victory.
None of that mattered to James Berry, a Lakers fan who took to Facebook after the game Thursday night to express his contempt at LeBron and his fellow All-Star teammate Anthony Davis for kneeling by dousing replicas of their jerseys with gasoline and lighting them on fire. Nevermind that Berry almost burned himself in the process. That didn’t stop him from sharing what came across as his hateful, if not misguided, anger about the players, the league as well as China.
“They knelt during the National Anthem,” Berry wrote alongside his Facebook video post. “I won’t be purchasing anymore [sic] trash Nike made by the Communist Regime in China.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that the players had his support for kneeling — for now, at least.
“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,” he said.
It was unclear how he’d react once “these unique circumstances” die down. But what was clear was LeBron’s resolve to keep advocating for social justice.
“In the past when we’ve seen progress, we’ve let our foot off the gas a little bit. We can’t do that. We want to continue to keep our foot on the gas. Continue to push forward,” he said during a postgame interview. “We’re dealing with a lot of racism, a lot of social injustice, a lot of police brutality, not only in my neighborhoods, but not only with Black people, but with people of color and it’s something that we’d want to continue to have people’s ears open to,” he added.
The unified display of NBA players kneeling came nearly four years after Colin Kaepernick took a knee in a silent protest about the rampant police brutality against Black people. Detractors claim kneeling is anti-American and unpatriotic and disrespects the American flag, but LeBron took the time to remind them all they don’t understand what the protest is all about.
“It had absolutely nothing to do about the flag, had absolutely nothing to do about the soldiers, the men and women that keep our land free,” LeBron also said after the game. He said he hopes he makes Kaepernick proud. “He explained that and the ears were uncomfortable. People never listened. They refused to listen and I did.”