The players linked arms, knelt and wore Black Lives Matter t-shirts as the Compton Kidz Club performed the national anthem prior to the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Clippers.
The words “Black Lives Matter” were also printed on the basketball court at The Arena at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, where the Lakers won with a score of 103-101.
"I hope we made Kap proud,” James told reporters following the game, referring to former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began silent protests during the football preseason in 2016 by kneeling during the national anthem.
Backlash from his protests — which started the #TakeAKnee Movement — led to Kaepernick leaving the 49ers a few months later in March 2017, and he has not played in the NFL since, remaining a free agent.
“Kap was someone who stood up when times weren’t comfortable. When people didn’t understand, when people refused to listen to what he was saying,” James added. “You go back and look at any of his postgame interviews when he was talking about why he was kneeling — it had absolutely nothing to do about the flag, he had absolutely nothing to do about soldiers.”
The NBA star continued. “He explained that and the ears were closed, people never listened. They refused to listen. I did! We just thank him for sacrificing everything that he did to put us in the position today, even years later, to be able to have that moment like we had tonight.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver seemed to support the players' decision to kneel, telling The New York Times, “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.”
During the MLB season opener last week, players similarly honored the Black Lives Matter movement during the pregame ceremony by kneeling in a moment of silence. While the national anthem played, however, most players stood.
"To have everyone kneel at the same time, it was to give hope to any overall reason you want to do it," Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton told USA Today. "For me, it’s for the racial injustice and Black lives in general. And a lot of other things going on. We all have individual reasons to do so."