NBA sends memo to teams offering suggestions, reminding of rule to stand for anthem

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The NBA has a rule that players have to stand — “in a dignified manner” — for the national anthem.

With the first NBA exhibition games this weekend, and a lot of players who feel that locking arms as was done a year ago may not be enough of a statement, the league — from ownership through the league office, the players union, and of course the players themselves — are discussing how to deal with the wish to protest.

With that, the NBA sent a memo to teams both offering suggestions on engaging the community, ideas such as addressing fans before games, and noting the NBA’s rule players have to stand for the anthem, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN. (NBC Sports also has obtained that memo.)

The memo, distributed by deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, instructs teams that “the league office will determine how to deal with any possible instance in which a player, coach, or trainer does not stand for the anthem.” The memo states that individual teams “do not have the discretion to waive” the rule that players, coaches and staff must stand for the anthem. The league has the discretion to discipline players who violate the rule…

In the memo, Tatum suggests teams might address the current political climate by having players and coaches give a joint pregame address at their first home games.

“This could include a message of unity and how the team is committed to bringing the community together this season,” the memo states. The memo also suggests teams might prepare a video tribute or public service announcement featuring “team leadership speaking about the issues they care about.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said this on Thursday at a press conference.

“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.”

It should be noted this is a league issue, not one where teams have discretion.

The league has sent multiple memos to teams about ways to engage their community and make a difference rather than just a statement. The majority of the memo sent Friday is the same — it talks about having conversations within the organization, from ownership through the front office and to the players, and finding ways to be active not just protest.

On media day this week, a number of players (and a few coaches) were direct and very critical of President Donald Trump, who has made kneeling at NFL games an issue. Stephen Curry and LeBron James were front and center both criticizing the president on social media and on Sports Illustrated’s “unity” cover. Some NBA owners have concerns about alienating supporters of the president and the NBA has several teams in very red states.

While the memo, when read in its entirety, is not a top-down, authoritarian document, however the parts released may come off that way to players. In some way the leak of the memo made it more powerful a statement to take a knee (or leave during the anthem, as the LA Sparks of the WNBA have done through the playoffs) and even more defiant an act.

Players taking a knee or leaving the floor during an anthem an NBA game would cause a media firestorm and fuel talking heads — particularly on the political right, who can stir their base with this issue — but it would not have the same impact among NBA fans as it did in NFL stadiums. As we have noted many times before, 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. Also, it should be noted that the NBA owns the WNBA and there has been no punishment of the Sparks for their anthem protests.

Will NBA fans see guys protesting on Saturday? It’s going to be interesting.