As NBA Finals Ratings Tank, Commissioner Says League Will Withdraw 'Black Lives Matter' From Jerseys, Courts

The NBA spent a good portion of its COVID-delayed season trying to figure out how to spread messages to combat social injustice, when its game resumed. The league has allowed players to wear social justice sayings on their jerseys, and each court has "Black Lives Matter" painted on it.

Now that its playoffs are about to wrap up, and playoff ratings are at a 40-year low, the NBA commissioner said that social justice messages won't be prominently displayed when the 2020-21 season begins.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says the league will depend upon its teams and players to deliver those ongoing messages largely outside of the playing arena. Silver said it's a conversation that will be held between the league and its players before the next season commences in a few months.

"I would say, in terms of the messages you see on the court and our jerseys, this was an extraordinary moment in time when we began these discussions with the players and what we all lived through this summer," Silver told ESPN's Rachel Nichols before Game 4 of the NBA Finals. "My sense is there'll be somewhat a return to normalcy — that those messages will largely be left to be delivered off the floor."

NBA and Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter is shown on jersey of Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics in Game One of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Toronto Raptors during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at The Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 30, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

A 2020 Black Lives Matter movement ignited in the country after the May 25 death of George Floyd, who died while in custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. Prior to that, Breonna Taylor was shot to death in her Louisville, Kentucky home by local police.

Nationwide protests sparked internal social justice movements within professional sports leagues, from the NBA to NASCAR. The NBA allowed its players to wear social justice sayings at the top portion of their jersey backs, where the player's name would typically be seen.

In addition, at the Disney World "Bubble" where games were being played in Orlando, Florida, there was "Black Lives Matter" painted onto each court.

Meanwhile, the NBA ratings have plummeted during the league's restart and subsequent playoffs. Silver did not say it was a reason to pull the social justice messages directly from the players and its court, but did say the league would still back those messages.

However, during the league's restart, players and teams began a boycott—of its own games—after the shooting of a Black man named Jacob Blake, who was shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

"The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association today announced that in light of the Milwaukee Bucks' decision to not take the floor today for Game 5 against the Orlando Magic, today's three games – Bucks vs. Magic, Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers - have been postponed. Game 5 of each series will be rescheduled," the league stated after the boycotts.

That reportedly led to more people not watching the NBA games, and Silver responded to those potential viewers.

"I understand those people who are saying 'I'm on your side, but I want to watch a basketball game,'" Silver said.

The league's ratings were down 20 percent from last year, according to ESPN. But when the playoffs started, the ratings sank even lower. Then, when the NBA Finals tipped off, the ratings hit the bottom of the tank—the worst in league history. Following that up was even worse ratings for Game 2.

This has happened while the league's best player, LeBron James, was front and center in the Finals.

Ratings have continued hit all-time lows as the NBA Finals near. The league struggles to keep up with Major League Baseball playoffs and NFL football games—and even some college games.

The NBA's admission to removing social justice statements from basketball courts and player jerseys comes at a time when contracts need to be renewed between the league and its partners.