By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – The start of a new NBA season always commands attention, given a thirst for gravity-defying dunks and sweet shooters, but this year many may tune in simply to see if players will defy rules and kneel during the national anthem.
The gesture has become common across the National Football League and is intended to call attention to what protesting players see as a pattern of racism in the treatment of African-Americans by U.S. police.
But it has been exacerbated after U.S. President Donald Trump said last month that players who did not stand during the anthem should be fired, prompting many NFL players to kneel and lock arms in solidarity.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said he expects players to stand during the U.S. national anthem, which has long been a league rule. The NBA also sent out a memo warning players of potential punishment if they didn’t stand for the anthem.
No NBA players have tested the mandate but several teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks, have stood together and locked arms during the national anthem ahead of their preseason games.
The reigning champion Golden State Warriors have been the most vocal team in the NBA in advocating for racial equality and condemning the rhetoric of Trump and are viewed by many as a favorite to show some form of protest.
But the Warriors decided against any kind of display during the preseason and do not sound like they will change their position when they open the 2017-18 season on Tuesday.
“We said what we had to say,” said Warriors forward Draymond Green. “Everyone knows where we stand. We don’t need to do anything else to show where we stand.”
The NBA has long been considered the most progressive of the four main North American professional sports leagues and players have already been outspoken about the gesture, which has become increasingly common since Colin Kaepernick started it last year as a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, a four-times NBA Most Valuable Player, said he commends fellow athletes who are trying to make a difference by getting down on one knee but that he does not plan on doing the same.
“For me personally, my voice is more important than my knee,” said James. “I talk (to media) every single day, what I say I think it should hit home for a lot of people. I don’t believe I have to get on my knee to even further what I’m talking about.”