NBA and WNBA players' decade of demanding justice

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Sept. 30

Lakers lock arms during anthem at preseason game

As “The Star-Spangled Banner” began to play, Los Angeles Lakers players and coaches hooked arms. On the opposite side of the court, the Minnesota Timberwolves did the same. Both teams stood — elbows locked — for the entirety of the anthem.

The show of unity came six days after dozens of NFL players kneeled for the anthem in protest of President Trump’s comments that players who do so should be fired. But there would be no kneeling in the NBA.

The night before the Lakers-Wolves game, deputy commissioner Mark Tatum sent a memo to teams, reminding them of the NBA’s anthem policy, which had been on the books since 1981: “Players, coaches and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line.”

Fifteen years after that rule was adopted, Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf declined to stand during the anthem, citing religious and personal beliefs. After serving a one-game suspension, he came to an agreement with the league: He would stand, but cup his hands over his face in prayer while the song played.

Still, he was traded by the Nuggets, his playing time waned, and he lost his starting spot. By 1998, at 29 years old, he was out of the league. (He returned two years later for a 41-game stint with Vancouver.) Abdul-Rauf has said that was a direct result of the stance he took.

As the NBA restarts its season in empty arenas at Walt Disney World, the anthem will still be played. As of now, the standing mandate is still in effect. But the national climate is far different from 1996 or 2017.

When asked whether players would be allowed to kneel during the anthem, commissioner Adam Silver said last month that he wasn’t “comfortable” with the word “allowed,” but added, “I also understand the role of protest, and I think that we’ll deal with that situation when it presents itself.” — MALIKA ANDREWS



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