Black players were next to white players. Coaches from one team were next to their compatriots from the opposing side. Many locked arms with the man next to them, some shut their eyes tightly, a few raised their fists into the air.
The NBA had a strong, powerful re-opening night message.
When it comes to demanding change, the league stands united — and on Thursday, the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans showed that by not standing.
An unprecedented image for the league in unprecedented times: The Jazz and Pelicans knelt alongside one another during “The Star-Spangled Banner,’' their way of joining the chorus of those demanding racial justice and equality in society.
The NBA has a rule that dates back 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.
“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 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The coaches, New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry and Utah’s Quin Snyder, were next to one another, their arms locked together. The scene, which occurred with the teams lined up along the sideline nearest where “Black Lives Matter” was painted onto the court, was the first of what is expected to be many silent game-day statements by players and coaches who will kneel to call attention to many issues — foremost among them, police brutality 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. 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.
“I think it’s critical that all of us, in a unified way, turn attention to social justice,’' Snyder said during a televised in-game interview. “And all the players, all the coaches, are united in that fact and committed to do what we can do to effect long-term change.”
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.’'
The NBA season was suspended March 11 when the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert — who also scored the first basket of the restarted season — tested positive for the coronavirus and became the first player in the league with such a diagnosis.
Thibodeau is Knicks coach
Tom Thibodeau has seen what it’s like in New York when the Knicks win and wanted to be the coach to make it happen again. He got the chance Thursday, when the Knicks brought the former NBA Coach of the Year and former Celtics assistant back to the organization he helped reach the NBA Finals as an assistant. Thibodeau was an assistant with the Knicks from 1996-2003, part of Jeff Van Gundy’s staff when they made a run from the No. 8 seed to the finals in 1999. He’s had success all around the NBA since he left and the Knicks have had almost none, but that hasn’t dampened his desire to come back. “This a dream come true for me,” Thibodeau said. “This is my dream job.” Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The Knicks fired David Fizdale 22 games into the season and finished under interim coach Mike Miller, going 21-45.
Morant upset about format
Now with the NBA restarting, rookie Ja Morant told ESPN that he thinks it’s unfair that the 3½-game lead the 8th-seeded Memphis Grizzlies built between themselves and the closest playoff contenders in the West could prove irrelevant. In the NBA’s bubble format, Memphis would have to be 4½ games ahead when the eight seeding games are complete to avoid a play-in game or games to determine the eighth and last playoff team. “I just feel like it’s an extra chip,” Morant said, when asked if the format could provide the Grizzlies with a chip on their shoulder. “You know — more fuel to the fire, more motivation for us.”
Insurance benefit set
After a new agreement between the National Basketball Players Association and the league, players will receive a $2.5 million insurance benefit in the event of a career-ending injury, sources told ESPN. The NBPA had been pushing for a raise in the permanent disability policy that previously paid out approximately $312,000 in these cases. The insurance covers career-ending injuries sustained on and off the court, including complications caused by Covid-19, sources said … Michael Jordan, Hornets owner and six-time NBA champion, has started sharing details of where some of his $100 million pledge to the Black community will be allocated. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted Peoples and Families Movement will each receive $1 million, while Black Voters Matter, which works to increase voter registration and turnout, will get $500,000 it was announced Wednesday. Jordan, who made the $100 million pledge to the Black community back in June, said the money will support social justice, economic justice and education and awareness.