NBA players weigh if they will follow NFL's example in social justice protests

While gearing up for their first annual practice, NBA players have another task to tackle – finding the appropriate approach in voicing dissent.

Alan Diaz/AP
Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra talks to reporters during a news conference on Sept. 25, 2017, in Miami.

National Basketball Association teams are going to do something.

What, no one is exactly sure yet.

The first practice of the year awaits most NBA teams Tuesday – and as if the task of getting ready for a regular season that starts in three weeks wasn't daunting enough, coaches and players all over the league are trying to decide how to best use their platform and continue striving for what they hope is positive change in society.

President Trump's recent comments on protests by National Football League players, particularly those visible during the playing of the national anthem before games, as well as rescinding the Golden State Warriors' traditional championship invitation to the White House, have struck a clear chord in the NBA.

"We will support our guys if they choose to decide to fight this in a coherent, connected way," Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "But absolutely, we all feel discouraged just by the divisiveness right now. And we would all just love to see a lot more equality and inclusion."

League-wide media days on Monday were dominated by Trump talk – and while frustrations are clear, solutions are not.

"The only thing I can do is forgive him and love him throughout the process," Charlotte center Dwight Howard said. "And we all have to do that. That's the only way we're going to get better. I know a lot of things in history have caused certain groups and certain races to hate other races, but we have to find a way to put all of that aside."

He was kinder than most.

At their media days Monday, Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal said Mr. Trump is "a clown" and Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan called the president a "so-called leader." That comes on the heels of Cleveland star LeBron James tweeting over the weekend that Trump is a "bum," doing so after Trump said he was taking away Warriors star Stephen Curry's invite to visit the White House.

"We know where the power in the country is and we know the racism that exists," said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and the next US Olympic men's basketball coach. "But it's gone beyond that, to the point where I'm more worried about, and more confused by, the people around our president. These are intelligent people who know exactly what's going on, who are basically very negative about his actions, but now it seems that it's condoned."

Trump said NFL players who kneel for the national anthem should be fired, and his usage of the term "son of a bitch" to describe protesting players also angered many in the NBA.

There is a rule in the NBA saying players, coaches, and trainers must stand for the national anthem in a dignified manner. But if the Memphis Grizzlies decide they want to see what happens should anyone defy that mandate, their coach will be right there with them.
"No gray area today," David Fizdale said. "I'll be on my knee."

It seems unlikely that NBA teams will kneel for anthems; many players said Monday that they wouldn't do so. Chicago guard Kris Dunn said the matter was of particular importance to him, since he has a close friend serving in Afghanistan with the US Army.

"The power is in the hands of the players, the NFL players, and the same for the NBA players, even though our NBA stars have a much better relationship with owners and with the league than the NFL," Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard said. "If NFL players decide 'We're not playing,' if each player gets behind each other and says 'We're not playing,' then what? When you truly make a stand, then what?"

Thunder forward Paul George said he hopes the NBA does something as a league to show unity in drawing attention to the issue of police and race.

"Everyone has to take a part into doing something," Mr. George said. "Hopefully, we do something as a league that gives us strength. I thought what the NFL is doing right now is beautiful. They're showing a lot of power, not only from the players, but the front office making statements that we're going to back the players up whatever they do. So hopefully, we can approach it the same way the NFL's doing it."

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP Sports Writers Steve Reed, Anne M. Peterson, Teresa Walker, Stephen Whyno, Tom Withers, Cliff Brunt, and Andrew Seligman contributed to this story.

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