KISSIMMEE. Fla. – The New Orleans Pelicans, Utah Jazz, and game referees knelt during the national anthem before Thursday night’s seeding-game opener at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

For the past several weeks, NBA players talked about using their platform during the NBA restart to make a statement against racism and social injustice. And on this night, players and coaches made theirs by taking a knee.

“I respect our teams’ unified act of peaceful protest,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said, “and under these unique circumstances will not enforce our long-standing rule of requiring standing during the national anthem.”

In a statement, the Pelicans said they stand for the ideals and freedom of speech and the right to peacefully protest.

“To promote meaning changes relative to social justice and racial equality, the New Orleans Pelicans have partnered with our players, staff and coaches to create a Social Justice Leadership Alliance committed to furthering the discussion, listening and learning and taking action to positive change in our community and our country,” the statement read.

The National Basketball Referees Association announced support for members who chose to kneel during the Star-Spangled Banner.

“BLACK LIVES MATTER,” NBRA spokesperson Mark Denesuk wrote. “Social justice and bringing awareness to the inequitable treatment of black and brown people in America and very important to our diverse membership. We felt a responsibility to use our visibility as the NBA season resumes to promote awareness and inspire anti-racist action in our nation and around the world.”

George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement in recent months has called for people around the league to seek change.

Fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, was arrested on May 25 and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter four days after he pinned his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd, who was Black, was unarmed and handcuffed and told Chauvin he couldn’t breathe.

This comes after a white father and son were arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault on May 7 for the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man on a residential street in Brunswick, Ga., more than two months earlier. The arrests of Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, came after a national outcry. Arbery, 25, was killed while jogging on Feb. 23. William Bryan Jr., a motorist who filmed the shooting, was charged with felony murder on May 21. Gregory McMichael told police Bryan had tried to help them stop Arbery.

On Thursday, the Pelicans and Jazz stood in silence as statements from players and coaches around the league were played over the intercom.


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