Players take a knee as NBA restarts

July 31, 2020
Black lives matter

The NBA relaunched its coronavirus-hit season on Thursday, with players taking a knee during the US national anthem in a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Four months after the league shut down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA is restarting its season with 22 teams based inside a secure "bubble" at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

The unprecedented NBA experiment began on Thursday with the Utah Jazz defeating the New Orleans Pelicans 106-104 in an empty arena at the resort's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

The first and last points of the game were scored by Utah's Rudy Gobert -- the Frenchman whose COVID-19 case triggered the NBA's shutdown in March.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers were due to play later Thursday in the second game of the day.

Ahead of the opening tip-off, players from the Jazz and Pelicans -- wearing t-shirts emblazoned with "Black Lives Matter" -- kneeled in unison as the "Star-Spangled Banner" played.

The demonstration followed weeks of soul-searching about racism and police brutality in the United States following the death of unarmed black man George Floyd during his arrest by police on May 25 in Minneapolis.

Many NBA players joined protests against the killing which swept across all 50 states in June, and the cause of social justice has loomed large ahead of the league's restart.

Large "Black Lives Matter" slogans have been written on each court, while players are allowed to wear jerseys adorned with messages ranging from "I Can't Breathe" to "Justice Now" and "Education Reform."

Taking a knee has become an emblematic way of showing solidarity with anti-racism campaigners, adopted by athletes around the world in the months since Floyd's death.

Kneeling during the US national anthem was first started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016.

While the NBA has a long-standing rule requiring players to stand for the national anthem before games, league commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday no players would be sanctioned.

"I respect our teams' unified act of peaceful protest for social justice and under these unique circumstances will not enforce our long-standing rule requiring standing during the playing of our national anthem," Silver said.