As was the case around the NBA during the first two days of the league’s regular-season resumption, almost all of the Miami Heat players and staffers took a knee during the national anthem that preceded Saturday’s game against the Denver Nuggets.
The exception was center Meyers Leonard, who has family military ties. He stood at attention during the Star Spangled Banner, wearing a “Black Lives Matter” shooting shirt.
“Some of the conversations I’ve had over the past three days, quite literally, have been the most difficult,” Leonard told the Associated Press. “I am with the Black Lives Matter movement and I love and support the military and my brother and the people who have fought to defend our rights in this country.”
Leonard told reporters after the game, “I did in my heart what was right to me … . I had to put my head down and I was tearing up.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra said the approach was left to the individual players.
“We respect how each individual wants to express their protest,” Spoelstra said pregame from Disney’s Wide World of Sports. “But make no mistake about it, everybody is protesting, and it is not a political discussion. This is really just about basic human rights.”
With arms locked along the “Black Lives Matters” lettering on the court at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, the Heat players other than Leonard knelt with heads bowed, amid the league’s effort to promote awareness of systemic racism.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said the moment was one of respect — and purpose.
“I realize some people want to make this about not honoring the flag, disrespectful to our troops, all those that have given their lives in the past and currently serve our military now, protecting our country,” he said. “I think it’s almost super patriotic to take a knee.
“And it’s not disrespecting our flag. It’s basically asking our country to live up to the ideals that we know that this country was founded upon. We have yet to live up to those ideals. And this is just a way to remind everybody of that. And we have a lot of work to do.”
To Spoelstra, it remains a matter of keeping the message at the forefront.
Going into Saturday’s game, he reflected on how the Heat stood together in the wake of the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012 by wearing hoodies similar to what the unarmed Black youth was wearing when killed.
“I think what’s most disappointing and disturbing,” Spoelstra said, “is that was eight years ago and, in that moment you felt like this could be an opportunity for change, and it didn’t really change anything. And there are continued examples of police brutality and the racial inequalities in this system.
“This is a different, I think, feeling of hope right now, that this is not losing momentum, and more people are really starting to acknowledge that there is something wrong and then taking steps to change that.”
Spoelstra called the unified NBA display, “an historic opportunity to take steps to create lasting, sustainable change in this fight against racial inequalities.”
Both teams played with social messages in place of last names on the backs of their jerseys.
Heat forward Jimmy Butler had requested to play with a blank nameplate, to show solidarity with all impacted. But that bid was denied by the NBA.
Instead, in a compromise, there was no name above Butler’s number, where the social messages of other players were placed, with Butler’s name below the number on his jersey. He initially took the court with a jersey lacking his name, but then was required by the officiating staff to change prior to the opening tip.
He said the moment was not the time to draw a line.
“I decided to change it because my teammates probably needed me today,” he said after the game.
He said he might again attempt the no-name approach.
“To tell you the truth, it’s still to be determined for the next game, as well,” he said. “I hope they just let me play with no name on the back of my jersey. It’s to be determined.”
Butler earlier made a different sort of statement in the NBA’s Disney World bubble, with the National Basketball Equipment Managers Association posting a note of thanks on its Twitter account to Butler for easing their existence at Disney.
“Look at what just showed up in the laundry area,” the post read alongside a photo of a new refrigerator and two cases of beer, “a stocked fridge for the long hours that we are spending here. He continues to be a great friend and huge supporter to the equipment managers. Thank you Jimmy.”
Butler early in the NBA’s pandemic shutdown sent full-sized build-your-own basketball hoops to Heat teammates and coaches, as well as selected other players around the league.
Next season will create a reunion for Butler with his former Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, with Thibodeau this past week named New York Knicks coach.
“Obviously, I’m happy for him,” Butler said. “I think he’s going to do well. He’s going to do great. He’s going to turn those young guys into some real players, some superstars, some All-Stars. All of that good stuff.
“I know he has been itching for this. I know he has been preparing for it. When you talk about Thibs on the big stage, I think they go hand in hand.”
© 2020 Sun Sentinel
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.