LeBron James was clutch at the end. First, he scored what turned out to be the game-winning shot by getting the offensive rebound on his own missed shot and laying it in. On the other end of the floor, he defended the Clippers’ two stars, Kawhi Leonard and then Paul George, to deny the Clippers from scoring. The Lakers won, 103-101. The Utah Jazz defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 106-104.
But the restart of the NBA season was bigger than basketball. Every NBA player kneeled during the national anthem, wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts.
In the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, NBA players and other athletes have been vocal in their calls for social justice as America reckons with racism and the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police.
James has been among the most outspoken NBA players.
“The game of basketball has always been bigger than just a ball and a rim and 10 guys on the floor, four referees,” James said early Friday, speaking to Turner Sports following the Lakers’ win.
“We used this platform to spread a lot of positive, a lot of love throughout the course of the whole world,” he continued.
The season was suspended on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but James, other players and the league hope this restart is a step in a positive direction.
“We understand what’s going on in society right now and we’re using this NBA platform as the players, as the coaches, as organizations to continue to stand strong on that,” he said. “It’s a good start, it’s a good start tonight. It’s great to have the NBA back and I hope our fans are proud of us tonight.”
Why Black Lives Matter
After Thursday’s game, James stressed that while there’s been progress and the league has been supportive of Black Lives Matters efforts, there’s more work to be done.
“In the past when we’ve seen progress, we’ve let our foot off the gas a little bit. We can’t do that. We want to continue to keep our foot on the gas, continue to push forward, continue to spread love throughout America.”
The fight against racism and police brutality is far from over, according to James. He and others want the momentum to continue because people are finally listening.
James also made sure to acknowledge how former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who famously began kneeling during the national anthem prior to the start of NFL games in 2016, sacrificed his career to draw attention to the unjust deaths of Black Americans.
In the years since Kaepernick’s silent protests, more people are listening and rethinking their stances on systemic racism.
“I hope we made Kaep proud,” James said. “I hope we continue to make Kaep proud. Every single day I hope I make him proud on how I live my life, not only out on a basketball floor but off the floor.”
“Kaep was someone who stood up when at times wasn’t comfortable, when people didn’t understand, when people refused to listen to what he was saying.”