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WITH words and actions, several NBA teams showed their disapproval on Wednesday just hours after a violent mob loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol and after a prosecutor’s decision not to charge a police officer who shot a black man in the back last year.
In Miami, the Heat and Boston Celtics released a joint statement saying they were playing “with a heavy heart” in a game where most players and coaches knelt for the national anthem. In Milwaukee, the Bucks and Detroit Pistons both intentionally took turnovers on their first possessions while all 10 players on the court were kneeling. In Phoenix, the Suns and Toronto Raptors stood in a circle and linked arms for the US and Canadian anthems. Many other tributes took place around the league.
Earlier in the day at the Capitol, a mob delayed Congress from certifying the results of November’s presidential election and paving the way for President-elect Joe Biden to be sworn in later this month.
“It’s an embarrassing and shameful day in our country,” New Orleans coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Wednesday’s events came one day after the decision not to bring charges against the officer who shot Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year was announced. Blake’s shooting was one of the many incidents players focused on last season in the NBA’s Covid-secure bubble, where the issues of racial injustice and police brutality were of constant importance.
The joint Heat-Celtics statement said that “heavy hearts” came, in part, through the knowledge “that protesters in our nation’s capital are treated differently by political leaders depending on what side of certain issues they are on.”
The Celtics discussed the Blake decision earlier in the day, before the events from the Capitol unfolded. Players met again as a team after arriving at the arena in Miami, discussed options, and coach Brad Stevens even called his wife to say that he didn’t think they would take the floor.
Boston ultimately chose to play, beating Miami 107-105.
“They’ve operated in a win-at-all-costs attitude,” Stevens said of Trump’s administration. “I don’t know, our sports world is a lot less important, obviously. But I’ve always thought if you operated with a win-at-all-costs attitude, it’s going to be a pretty unfulfilling ending. And in this situation, a disgraceful ending. So, I’m looking forward to two weeks from now, as I know a lot of other people are, too.”
Biden will be inaugurated in 12 days, on January 20.
It was unclear if any of the teams who knelt would be subject to penalties. The NBA had a rule for decades that players and coaches must stand for the national anthem, but this was relaxed last year when the season resumed in Orlando.
When the Bucks won the first possession of their game, two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo simply held the ball as all players knelt. That resulted in a turnover, as did the ensuing Detroit possession when Blake Griffin held the ball and players took a knee again. The Bucks said after the game that they held the ball for 7 seconds to reflect the seven times that Blake was shot.
“We want to do things to help make change, be on the right side of the fight, continue to fight — not be in any way, shape or form distracted or slowed or moved in the wrong direction,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
There were 11 games on Wednesday’s NBA schedule. All were played.
“It feels a little odd to play a game tonight, to be honest,” Charlotte coach James Borrego said before his club played in Atlanta.
Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers spoke of the stark difference between rallies across the US last summer, which often included violent skirmishes between protesters and police, and what he watched at the Capitol on Wednesday.
“The symbolism of storming the Capitol without force done to them, if you’re a black American, it definitely touches you in a different way,” Rivers said.
“This is not a black thing. This is an American thing.”
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