Orlando forward Jonathan Isaac declined to join in a demonstration against racism and police brutality before his team’s game with Brooklyn on Friday, citing a desire to express his religious beliefs. Later that day, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich and assistant Becky Hammon both stood during the "Star-Spangled Banner." And Saturday morning, Miami big man Meyers Leonard also stood.
NBA teams have been united with league officials in kneeling during the national anthem, with players wearing T-shirts that say “Black Lives Matter” — a message that’s also present at center court of each arena in the Walt Disney World sports complex bubble.
Popovich, Hammon and Leonard all wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts. Isaac did not.
Isaac, who is Black, declined to participate while wearing his jersey. He said his decision had nothing to do with any special respect for the flag or the anthem.
“I do believe Black lives matter, but I just felt like it was a decision I had to make,” Isaac said in a video conference after the game. “… Putting that shirt on and kneeling wasn’t hand in hand on supporting Black lives or made me support Black lives or not. I believe that my life is supported through the gospel, through Jesus Christ and that everyone is made in the image of God and we all fall short of God’s glory.
"Each and every one of us, each and every day, do things we shouldn’t do, say things we shouldn’t say. We hate and dislike people we shouldn’t hate and dislike. And sometimes it gets to a point where we point fingers about whose evil is worse.”
He was the first player to stand during the playing of the anthem since the NBA relaunched its games in Orlando, Fla.
Leonard told the Associated Press that he couldn’t bring himself to kneel despite believing in the fight against racism. Leonard’s brother, Bailey, is a U.S. Marine. Popovich, who served in the Air Force, didn’t say why he chose to stand.
In the wake of a number of deaths of unarmed Black people, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, at the hands of law enforcement, NBA players have made sure that social justice remains a topic of conversation as the league relaunched, in some cases refusing to answer questions with anything other than demands for justice.
Players, coaches and officials from all four teams that played during re-opening night on Thursday knelt during the national anthem, making a statement of unity while condemning racism. The NBA has a rule requiring players to stand for the anthem since 1981, but commissioner Adam Silver said he wouldn’t be enforcing it, allowing for peaceful demonstrations.
Players were also given the option to replace the name on the backs of their jerseys with a message of social reform.
The demonstrations continued into Friday’s games.
Both Magic head coach Steve Clifford and guard Evan Fournier, who knelt during the anthem, said they supported Isaac’s decision.
Isaac, 22, said he spoke about his choice beforehand with his teammates during a meeting.
“It was just something I didn't feel went hand in hand with supporting Black lives — just the means to an end. We're protesting and doing things to get something done,” he said. “And I'm standing and not wearing a T-shirt to get something done as well, to get out of the realm of skin color, to get out of the realm … to see all the things that we all do each and every day that aren't right and come to an understanding that at the end of the day, the answer to it all, to all of our problems to all of everything that goes on in our world is Jesus."