Players and coaches from the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz knelt alongside one another before the first game of the NBA restart on Thursday night in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
The coaches — New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry and Utah’s Quin Snyder — were next to one another, their arms locked together. Some players raised a fist as the final notes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” were played, the first of what is expected to be many silent statements calling for racial justice and equality following the deaths of, among others, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in recent months.
Even the game referees took a knee during the pregame scene, which occurred with the teams lined up along the sideline nearest where “Black Lives Matter” was painted onto the court. The Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers were expected to also take some sort of action before the second game of the re-opening night doubleheader later Thursday.
“It’s so important at this point for us to be unified and be able to peacefully protest many of the critical things that are going on in the country right now,” Snyder said.
The NBA has a rule that dates to the early 1980s decreeing that players must stand for the national anthem, and Commissioner Adam Silver quickly announced that the policy is being adjusted. The anthems were pre-recorded: Jon Batiste performed the one before Pelicans-Jazz, the Compton Kidz Club had the task before Clippers-Lakers.
“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,” said Silver, who watched from a plexiglass-enclosed suite because he has not been quarantined and therefore cannot be around players and coaches who are living inside the NBA’s so-called bubble at Walt Disney World..
Many players warmed up wearing shirts that said “Black Lives Matter.” Thursday also marked the debut of new jerseys bearing messages that many players chose to have added, such as “Equality” and “Peace.”