Elaborate plan was needed to get ‘I can’t breathe’ shirts to players in advance of Nets-Cavaliers

LeBron James Kaepernick

Derrick Rose was the first player to wear an on-court t-shirt with the “I can’t breathe” message displayed, in protest of the decision by a grand jury in Staten Island, New York not to indict police officer Daniel Pantoleo in the choking death of Eric Garner.

LeBron James immediately spoke out in support of Rose’s public stance, and he, his teammates, and members of the Nets all wore the shirts before Monday night’s game in Brooklyn.

But getting the shirts made in time and coordinating the effort required an elaborate plan to be put into place, the details of which were revealed in an interesting piece from Scott Cacciola of the New York Times.

The plan, a race against the clock before the Nets’ game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night at Barclays Center, unfolded across several boroughs of the city. James, Jay-Z, the visiting British royal couple and an associate of the hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons had starring roles. So did a security guard whose lone responsibility was to help smuggle the T-shirts into the Nets’ locker room.  …

The plan was simple, really: Deliver replicas of the “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt to James and other players who might be interested in wearing them before the game. Executing that plan, though, would be far more complex, as intermediaries between Jay-Z and James would need to get involved, none of the T-shirts actually existed yet, and the game was less than 24 hours away. …

The final hurdle was navigating the T-shirts past arena security. The N.B.A.’s stance was clear: The league did not want its players wearing the T-shirts during warm-ups. So Williams recruited a security guard to take the large box from Aminzadeh, Perez and Brown on the Dean Street entrance of the arena, Skolnik said.

It felt risky, Aminzadeh said, because the street was already flooded with police officers and other security personnel. So he tried to be discreet.

The part about smuggling the shirts into the arena seemed slightly unnecessary. While NBA commissioner Adam Silver did say he’d prefer that the players abide by the league’s on-court attire rules, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which he or someone at the league level would prevent the shirts from entering the building.

But it was important enough for those involved not to take any chances.

There’s quite a bit more to the story than what we excerpted here, so give the entire piece a read for more on how this all came together.

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