The NBA is using its restarted season to raise awareness for civil rights and social justice. Orlando Magic players announced their jersey statements.
The NBA tipped off its seeding round at its Disney campus on Thursday with a powerful statement.
As the national anthem was played on the video boards surrounding the court, players for the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans knelt arm in arm as a statement in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and social justice causes. The Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers would do the same before their game.
It will be an emotional moment for every team that takes the floor during these unprecedented times.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the season to shut down for four months. And social unrest brought to the foreground issues of racial injustice that affect the lives of nearly every player in the NBA. These issues are personal for many players throughout the league.
Recognizing the unique circumstances and the social climate the league is resuming its season, the league permitted players around the league to put a list of approved — by both the league and the players association — messages on the back of their jerseys.
For the Orlando Magic, 12 of the 16 players on the roster plan to wear a message on the back of their uniform when they take the floor against the Brooklyn Nets on Friday afternoon. The team announced those messages on Thursday:
Aaron Gordon – Freedom
Mohamed Bamba – Black Lives Matter
Michael Carter-Williams – Liberation
Nikola Vucevic – Equality
Evan Fournier – Justice
James Ennis – Justice Now
Gary Clark – Respect Us
B.J. Johnson – How Many More
D.J. Augustin – Equality
Markelle Fultz – Respect Us
Vic Law – Anti-Racist
Melvin Frazier – Equality
Each phrase means something individually to each player. And the NBA was right to give everyone the chance to express themselves during this important social moment and these difficult times throughout the country.
Many players throughout the league took the league up on this offer to express themselves.
When the media asked Aaron Gordon why he chose “Freedom,” he paused to try to gather his thoughts, at first saying, “That was a loaded question,” before detailing his decision:
“I still believe there is a group of people and a population of people who are being oppressed in America,” Aaron Gordon said after Thursday’s practice. “I believe everyone deserves the right to be free and be able to make decisions and to be able to experience things in this life and understand there is more to it than just being oppressed. Basically just being free from the systemic oppression that is continuing on in America.”
The Magic have begun taking steps to turn these words into action.
Orlando players arrived at the Disney campus wearing shirts that said, “Get off the bench, get into the game, vote.”
The team received many requests from fans to make these shirts available. This week they announced they would begin selling the shirts with proceeds going to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, the organization that is trying to restore voting rights to released felons and spearheaded the Amendment 4 vote a few years ago.
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Coach Steve Clifford said he has remained in contact with activist Desmond Meade, who spearheaded the Amendment 4 push in Florida, discussing ways he can use his voice and position to help the movement.
“We all have a platform to keep the conversation going,” Clifford said after practice Thursday. “We are all hopeful we can be part of positive and sustainable change. A change that we need against racism, bigotry, racial injustice. I think the messages are individual, players put thought into them and I think it’s great and much needed.”
The Magic players put together their own statement promising to be active and involved in their communities:
The Magic are hoping these statements are all the first step in creating real action in Orlando and beyond. As the organization continues to seek ways to make an impact in their communities.
For now, they have targeted voting and encouraging fans to vote as the first way to engage in real societal change.
“Voting is one of the best ways to make a change,” Nikola Vucevic said after practice Thursday. “It’s important to have everyone involved and give everyone the opportunity to vote. I know it was issue in the last election. It’s a great thing that they are doing.”
Vucevic said he chose “Equality” as his statement for his jersey because he felt like everyone is equal no matter their race or their religion and everyone should be treated equal. He said that was the word that had the most powerful message for him personally.
Vucevic said before the team entered the Disney campus, coming from outside of the country, he had a lot to learn about America’s history of race relations. The educational programs the Magic set up helped fill in some of those gaps.
Everyone still has a lot to learn on that front, even those born in this country, as we try to listen to each other’s experiences.
The NBA players are hoping to inspire some of this education and grow this empathy by lifting their voices, kneeling during the anthem and sharing their thoughts on their jersey. The league has followed suit, emblazoning the court with “Black Lives Matter” at midcourt on all three courts being used for games.
The Magic are now ready to tip-off the seeding round.