The NBA is officially back, and it’s restarting with a policy change on player protests.
A bubble season focused on social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement opened with a unified statement from players and referees before both of Thursday’s games.
Before the evening’s marquee matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers tipped off, players from both teams all took a knee as a rendition of the national anthem by the Compton Kidz Club played on video boards.
Coaches and referees knelt too with LeBron James and Anthony Davis linking arms near midcourt.
The show of unity mirrored the protest prior to the earlier matchup between the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz.
As a pre-recorded rendition of the national anthem by New Orleans native Jon Batiste played, every player and official on the court took a knee, with some players holding raised fists in the air.
Kneeling not allowed by NBA rules
Kneeling during the anthem is technically against NBA rules, but players and officials made their plans to do so clear as a form of protest against police brutality and social injustice.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver addressed the subject in a Time 100 talk in June when asked if the league would allow players to take a knee.
Rule won’t be enforced
Silver addressed the rule again directly after tip-off. The NBA will not be enforcing the rule.
“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,” the statement read.
As part of the restart negotiations, players voiced their desire to make social justice a centerpiece of the bubble league in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. All three courts in the bubble are emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter,” and players have the option to wear a social justice message on their uniforms.
Pelicans address kneeling
Shortly after tipoff, the Pelicans released a statement addressing the players’ decision to kneel.
“The New Orleans Pelicans stand by the ideals of freedom of speech and the right to peacefully protest,” the statement read. “Collectively with the Utah Jazz, our organization joins the NBA in supporting our players and coaches.
“To promote meaningful change relative to social justice and racial equality, the New Orleans Pelicans have partnered with our players, staff and coaches to create a Social Justice Leadership Alliance committed to furthering the discussion, listening and learning and taking action to make positive change in our community and our country.”
Mitchell’s postgame protest
Donovan Mitchell carried his protest into postgame. The Jazz guard showed up after the Utah win with a bulletproof vest displaying the names of victims of police brutality.
Meek Mill opens bubble season with message
Thursday’s moment arrived shortly after rapper Meek Mill opened TNT’s broadcast with a social justice message.
Meek Mill was released from prison in 2018 following a controversial sentence for a probation violation.
One of his first acts as a free man was to attend a Philadelphia 76ers game.
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