While the NFL struggled for years to manage its national anthem kneeling controversy, including botched attempts to ban the protests, the NBA avoided the issue with an established rule requiring players to stand during the national anthem — a rule that the players followed without incident.
Things have changed, however, and now NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has made the decision not to enforce the rule, allowing entire teams to kneel during the anthem as a form of social justice protest.
"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," Silver said Thursday, according to the New York Times' Marc Stein.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver on both teams kneeling tonight: “I respect our teams’ unified act of peaceful protes… https://t.co/e1sUG4KvVg— Marc Stein (@Marc Stein)1596151666.0
Many players and coaches knelt during the anthem Thursday and Friday, as teams played their first regular season games since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down U.S. professional sports in March.
In the past, it was noticeable and newsworthy when a player did not stand for the national anthem. Now, in the NBA, it's more surprising to see a player choose to stand. That's what Orlando Magic player Jonathan Isaac did Friday before his team's game against the Brooklyn Nets.
While Isaac's teammates got down on one knee wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, Isaac stood for the anthem while wearing only his game jersey.
Nets and Magic players and staff show solidarity during Friday’s National Anthem. https://t.co/DMmFOZl61T— YES Network (@YES Network)1596221245.0
TNT analyst Charles Barkley defended any player who chooses to stand.
"The national anthem means different things to different people," Barkley said. "I'm glad these guys are unified. If people don't kneel, they're not a bad person. I want to make that perfectly clear. I'm glad they had unity, but if we have a guy who doesn't want to kneel because the anthem means something to him, he should not be vilified."
Isaac didn't give a reason for his choice to stand, but he has commented on social justice issues in the past, including after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
"Just because we are in the position of being an NBA player, it doesn't give us automatically an understanding or insight to issues that happen around us," Isaac said in June. "But I think because we have the ear of so many it's important for us to be diligent, to be vocal, but in a balanced way."