By Tim Reynolds / The Associated Press
MIAMI—National Basketball Association (NBA) players are being urged to reach out to league and union officials to try and come up with ways to create “positive change” in communities around the country, a move that comes in response to protests in other sports about racial oppression and other social matters.
Players received a memo from the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) on Wednesday, one that announced that the league and the union, “working together, have begun developing substantive ways for us to come together and take meaningful action.”
A copy of the memo was obtained by The Associated Press. It did not remind players of the NBA’s rule saying players must stand for the national anthem, something that some athletes in other pro sports have chosen not to do in recent weeks in acts of protest.
“These ideas are based on the actions many of you have already taken or supported, including convening community conversations in NBA markets to engage young people, parents, community leaders and law enforcement in a candid dialogue,” read one excerpt of the memo, signed by both NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and union head Michele Roberts.
They also said the game should continue bringing “people together and build bonds of trust in our communities.”
The memo was sent on the same day that each player on the WNBA’s Indiana Fever roster took a knee and linked arms with a teammate during the playing of the national anthem that preceded the team’s playoff game with the Phoenix Mercury.
“Well, we thought it was important to have a voice about something greater than basketball,” said Indiana’s Tamika Catchings, the longtime WNBA star who played her final game before retirement.
It also came on the same day that Golden State Coach Steve Kerr said he expected NBA players to take some sort of stand on the issue.
The NBA and its players already are involved with several social programs together, including ones promoting mentoring. In the NBA rule book, the wording of the policy related to the anthem is this: “Players, coaches and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line during the playing of the National Anthem.”
Protests during the playing of the anthem have been rare in the NBA, with perhaps the most famed example of one coming 20 years ago, when Denver’s Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the anthem because he felt the flag symbolized oppression. He was suspended for a game in March 1996 over his stance.
But NBA stars have not been shy about trying to promote social change, and LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony took the stage—at their own request—to begin the ESPY Awards broadcast this summer and spoke out about the wave of police shootings that created unrest around the nation in recent months.
Their speech was referenced in the memo to players on Wednesday, with Silver and Roberts saying the four stars “spoke eloquently about the senseless acts of violence impacting our communities.”
“I’m all for people speaking out against injustice,” said Kerr, who was 18 when his father—the president of American University in Beirut—was murdered. “Whatever form that takes, if it’s nonviolent and it leads to conversation, then I think that’s a good thing.”
Oklahoma City General Manager Sam Presti said he would like to see Thunder players and staff continue standing for the anthem. He addressed the issue on Wednesday, less than a week after an unarmed black man was fatally shot by a white police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“Our players have the opportunity and ability to express themselves as people and we respect that above all,” Presti said, speaking before the NBA’s announcement was distributed.
Presti said he was sure the league and the players would be “working in concert” to find common ground on the issue.
“The NBA and the players’ union are usually ahead of these types of situations,” Presti said.
Thunder guard Victor Oladipo told Complex Sports last week that he expected to see some NBA players taking a knee or acting in a similar fashion to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, soccer’s Megan Rapinoe and some National Football League players with regard to protests during the anthem.
“Whatever you believe, believe in to the utmost,” Oladipo said. “But I think definitely, we’ll see a few guys in the NBA doing the same thing.”