Black Lives Matter-supporting NBA participant stands for anthem

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Meyers Leonard has a brother who served two excursions in Afghanistan with the U.S. Marines. He carries a military-themed backpack, wears fight boots and has a cellphone loaded with Navy SEALs who’re his associates.

He additionally makes this clear: “I completely consider Black Lives Matter,” he stated.

Nonetheless, Leonard merely couldn’t convey himself to kneel for the nationwide anthem.

Sporting a Black Lives Matter T-shirt over a jersey that he ordered to say “Equality,” and as all different coaches and gamers round him knelt, Leonard stood for the taking part in of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Saturday earlier than the Warmth re-opened their season by going through the Denver Nuggets at Walt Disney World.

“A number of the conversations I’ve had over the previous three days, fairly actually, have been probably the most tough,” Leonard instructed The Related Press previous to the sport. “I’m with the Black Lives Matter motion and I like and help the navy and my brother and the individuals who have fought to defend our rights on this nation.”

Leonard handled anxiousness and sleeplessness for a number of days as he agonized over the choice. He defined his reasoning earlier than Saturday to present teammates and a number of other former ones, virtually all of them Black — then stood close to midcourt, hand over his coronary heart, because the music blared.

“I’m a compassionate human being and I really love all folks,” Leonard stated. “I can’t absolutely comprehend how our world, actually and figuratively, has was Black and white. There’s a line within the sand, so to talk: ‘In the event you’re not kneeling, you’re not with us.’ And that’s not true.

“I’ll proceed to make use of my platform, my voice and my actions to indicate how a lot I care concerning the African American tradition and for everybody,” he added. “I dwell my life to serve and impression others in a constructive method.”

Meyers Leonard
Meyers LeonardAP

The main target of this restarted NBA season, interrupted for greater than 4-1/2 months by the coronavirus pandemic, has been to proceed shining gentle on the necessity for racial justice and an finish to police brutality. NBA groups are kneeling, typically linking arms, for the pre-recorded nationwide anthem alongside a sideline the place “Black Lives Matter” is painted.

Orlando Magic ahead Jonathan Isaac, who’s Black, stood for the anthem earlier than his group’s recreation Friday and opted to not put on the ‘Black Lives Matter’ shirt that gamers and coaches have donned at Disney for the pregame ceremony.

Later Friday, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich and Spurs assistant Becky Hammon each stood for the anthem. Popovich, a graduate of america Air Drive Academy, stood with arms at his aspect. Hammon draped her arms over the shoulders of fellow assistant Will Hardy and Spurs guard Patty Mills.

“I did really feel somewhat little bit of a load lifted off my shoulders after they did that,” Leonard stated. “Every of these people had their very own private causes, simply as I do.”

Warmth ahead Andre Iguodala, a member of the Nationwide Basketball Gamers Affiliation’s govt committee, stated he revered Leonard’s selection.

“On the one hand, we’re saying, ‘We would like you to see issues from our perspective,’” Iguodala stated. “However by saying that, I additionally must see issues from his perspective. And I can see the place he’s coming from.”

Warmth captain Udonis Haslem had a number of conversations with Leonard in current days about his choice. Haslem has made a number of issues clear; he initially wished to see Leonard kneel, however after these talks he got here away with understanding — and vowed the Warmth would help their teammate.

Because the music ended, Haslem was the primary to faucet fists with Leonard.

“His being on the market with us, as our brother, it’s nonetheless exhibiting energy, it’s nonetheless exhibiting unity, it’s nonetheless exhibiting that we’re coming collectively for a standard trigger,” Haslem stated. “Individuals will query, ‘Why isn’t he doing it their method?’ Nicely, he’s standing by us. He’s supporting us. He’s with us.”

Haslem has seen Leonard’s dedication to serving to others. Leonard raised $180,000 in April by streaming himself taking part in video video games on-line; that cash went to causes resembling Feeding South Florida, a gaggle with which Haslem and the Warmth labored carefully.

And Saturday, Leonard stated he and his spouse will donate $100,000 to a fund that helps pay the charges Floridians leaving jails or prisons should settle earlier than they will have their voting rights restored.

“As a result of I’ve listened to Udonis and am continuously impressed by him, each single a type of {dollars} will go to Overtown and Liberty Metropolis, the place he grew up,” Leonard stated, referring to 2 of Miami’s historic Black neighborhoods. “These two elements of Miami have been most closely impacted by COVID-19 and voter suppression.”

Warmth ahead Jimmy Butler additionally tried to make an announcement Saturday, strolling onto the courtroom with a jersey with none identify on the again. He unsuccessfully lobbied the NBA to play in a jersey with only a quantity, and needed to change right into a jersey along with his identify earlier than the sport may start.

Former teammates have warned Leonard that he could take care of criticism, presumably from fellow NBA gamers. His eyes welled with tears many occasions in current days as he labored by means of the choice, his response so sturdy that he was shaking when he defined his option to Warmth teammates.

It was not a simple choice. It will not be well-liked.

However Saturday morning, a number of hours earlier than the anthem, Bailey Leonard, the previous Marine, texted his brother and stated “Keep true to you. Keep the course. I like you. Your loved ones loves you. Your group loves you.”

If Leonard had any doubt, it evaporated there.

“I do know he’s pleased with me,” Leonard stated. “And if he’s pleased with me, and if my brothers on this group are with me, then I do know that is what I’ve to do.”

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