With the first NBA preseason games coming up this weekend, players are discussing what they will do during the national anthem. It’s a discussion that is quietly involving the NBA players’ union and the league itself. Last year, NBA players locked arms during the anthem in a sign of unity. However, in the wake of the latest incidents with President Donald Trump — him pulling his invite to the Warriors to visit the White House, and NBA players responding with venom — locking arms does not seem like a strong enough message to many NBA players.
Unlike the NFL, the NBA has a rule players have to stand — “in a dignified manner” along the foul lines — during the national anthem. But Adam Silver was asked Thursday what if they don’t (via Ian Begley of ESPN).
“It’s disheartening to me to see so much disunity in our society. I think that sports historically, and in the NBA in particular, has been a unifying force. While there’s always been disagreements in society, sports arenas have been places where people from all walks of life have come together and for a common experience….
“On the anthem specifically, we have a rule that requires our players to stand for the anthem. It’s been a rule as long as I’ve been involved with the league, and my expectation is that our players will continue to stand for the anthem.
“Again, to me, it’s a unique issue in this league because 25 percent of our players are not American. But it’s always been an opportunity in our arenas for both teams to come together and have a moment of reflection. Clearly, for the non-American players, it’s not necessarily a moment of patriotism for the United States, but it’s about respect. It’s about respect for the country they play in. It’s about respect for the principles that underlie this country. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone agrees at any given point with what’s happening in their country.
“Again, as I said, it’s my hope that our players will continue to use that as a moment of unity. For example, last year many of our teams locked arms during the anthem, which I felt was a respectful show of unity…. But let me say these are highly complex and nuanced issues. One of the core principles of this country is freedom of expression as well.”
Silver was then asked what if a player does not stand for the anthem.
“All I can say is if that were to happen, we’ll deal with it when it happens.”
Silver is dodging that question a little, because he knows things are still being worked out. Like the good lawyer he is, he was vague to keep options open.
What you will not see at the NBA games, at least certainly not near the same levels, is the booing that took place at some NFL games last weekend. If you drew a Venn Diagram of NBA fans and hardcore Trump supporters, there isn’t much overlap — NBA fans trend younger, more urban, and more multicultural than NFL fans. Most NBA fans would look at guys kneeling during the anthem and nod, not boo. The fan base will not react in the same way, generally.
What exactly NBA fans will see starting this weekend remains to be seen.