As U.S. Erupts Into Protests, NBA Stars Join Front Lines

In the wake of George Floyd's death, NBA players have been at the forefront of protests calling for an end to racial injustice and police brutality.

Floyd died on May 25 while in custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. Several videos showed white police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for approximately nine minutes, while Floyd repeatedly shouted he couldn't breathe before seemingly losing consciousness.

The NBA world has been unanimous in demanding justice and condemning police brutality, with Michael Jordan, LeBron James and his Los Angeles Lakers teammates, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and his Detroit Pistons counterpart Dwane Casey all speaking out.

Some players have gone further than others in protesting Floyd's death and have attended some of the several demonstrations that have been held across the U.S. over the last week.

On Saturday, Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours to Georgia, his home state, to attend a protest.

"I drove 15 hours to get to Georgia, my community," Brown said in an Instagram video. "Being a celebrity, being an NBA player doesn't exclude me from no conversation at all. First and foremost, I'm a black man and I'm a member of this community. [...] We're raising awareness for some of the injustices that we've been seeing. It's not OK."

The third overall pick of the 2016 draft live-streamed part of the demonstration on his Instagram account, where he also posted a picture of himself holding a placard reading, "I can't breathe."

The message has been adopted by protesters against police brutality. Footage of Floyd's arrest showed him uttering the words, just as Eric Garner did shortly before losing consciousness when he was put into a chokehold by a New York City Police Department officer in 2014. Garner died as a result.

Brown wasn't the only player to join protesters. His teammate Enes Kanter spoke to a protest in Boston on Sunday, while Minnesota Timberwolves duo Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie took part in a demonstration on Minneapolis on Friday.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only LOVE can do that.”

— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) June 2, 2020

On Monday, Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young spoke at a protest in Norman, Oklahoma.

"I know this country's in a messed up place right now," he said as he addressed a crowd at Andrews Park in his hometown.

"And for me, I just think it's important that we all stick together and we stand up for what's right. It's not just going to take just me. It's not just going to take just you. It's all of us coming together and doing this as a collective unit."

Former NBA journeyman Stephen Jackson has also been a prominent figure during the protests, speaking at a rally last week to demand justice for Floyd, whom he had personally met in Houston years ago.

A 14-season veteran in the NBA, Jackson retired six years ago and admitted being surprised at his new role as social justice campaigner.

"I did not expect to have the role and to have so many people waiting to see what I have to say and what's the next move," he told Marc Spears of ESPN's The Undefeated on Monday. "Like, I didn't ask to be in this position, but I'm embracing it. I'm embracing it."

Over the weekend, NBA commissioner Adam Silver sent a memo to the 30 franchises, indicating the league shared "the outrage" of protesters and that Floyd's death was a reminder of underlying social issues in the country.

"We are being reminded that there are wounds in our country that have never healed," Silver said in the memo, which was obtained by ESPN. "Racism, police brutality and racial injustice remain part of everyday life in America and cannot be ignored."

Away from the NBA, a number of NFL, MLB and NHL players and teams have spoken out in the wake of Floyd's death.

Speaking on Sunday night, Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis said he would support a fresh set of protests by NFL players against police brutality and social injustice.

Last week, Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Lawrence, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Houston Texans star J.J. Watt all joined the chorus of voices calling for justice.

In the MLB, Philadelphia Phillies star Bryce Harper, Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton, New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman and Baltimore Orioles pitcher Asher Wojciechowski were just some of the players who spoke out.

Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics during the second half of the game against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden on March 3 in Boston, Massachusetts. Kathryn Riley/Getty