“Equality” is the most popular social justice message players have chosen to display on the back of their NBA jerseys for the league’s upcoming restart, National Basketball Players’ Association executive director Michele Roberts told ESPN’s The Undefeated on Wednesday. “Black Lives Matter” is second.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 285 of the expected 350 eligible NBA players have picked a social justice message to put on their jerseys while 17 have opted to continue to use their names instead, Roberts told The Undefeated. Although the soft deadline was Monday, she added that the NBPA is waiting for more players to make a final decision. NBA jerseys are made by Nike.
“The players have taken this seriously with what they’re going to put on their jerseys, understanding that they were going to have a platform giving a message to a wide variety of people,” Roberts told The Undefeated. “Given the large number of guys that are participating, I think these men appreciate that this is a chance to do exactly what they wanted to do. Keep the conversation going.
“The guys are excited to get back to the game. Hopefully, we can work to have some great basketball and give some great messages.”
The personalized statements are part of a long list of social justice messages the players plan to deliver over the remainder of the season, which will restart at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida, on July 30. The NBPA and the NBA reached an agreement last week on social justice messages that can be displayed above the numbers on the backs of jerseys.
The list of the suggested social messages that were agreed on by the NBPA and the NBA and then made available to players via email, per the source, are: Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can’t Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.
Roberts said there also will be social justice messages on jerseys in languages other than English, including Slovenian, Italian, French Creole, Latvian, Mori, Hebrew, Bosnian and Portuguese. Oklahoma City Thunder guard and NBPA executive director Chris Paul plans to have “EQUALITY” on the back of his jersey.
“I chose Equality because it reminds us that in order to have real impact and change, we need to make a conscious effort to level the playing field and create systems that are not bias based on race, education, economics or gender,” Paul told The Undefeated.
The social justice messages will be displayed above the number during the first four days of the season restart. Players can have a first and second choice, but they do not have to use the space for a social message. If they do not, the player’s last name would appear in that space. After the first four nights, a player can simply go back to his last name. If the player chooses to continue showing a social message, his name would go below the number.
When asked if there was anything the NBA didn’t want on the back of jerseys, NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum told The Undefeated: “No. There were no bright lines drawn. There was definitely a point of view that we did want names on the jerseys. There is a functional reason to want names on the jerseys. We knew there were players that wanted names on the jerseys as an identifier. We worked through the issues with the players’ association to a place where they feel good about it and we feel good about it as well.”
Participating players will get to keep one jersey with the social media message they selected. Opening game jerseys with social justice messages will be auctioned with proceeds going to a player-administered social justice fund to be housed by the NBPA Foundation. Tatum told The Undefeated that the social message jerseys will not be for sale.
Tatum said players from the eight NBA teams not taking part in resumption of the season will also be given the opportunity to have social justice jerseys made. The NBPA also plans on giving the players hoodies and T-shirts that they can wear in Orlando. Messages include: “Everybody Love Everybody,” “Make the Change” and “Break the Cycle.”
“This is something we are doing with the players and the players’ association. So, it has been a partnership the entire way. The view from conversations is that this was an important and powerful way for players to express themselves, have a voice and to use this as a platform to engage people on the issues and social justice messages they care about,” Tatum said.
Roberts and Tatum both said they respect the decision of some NBA players not to use social justice messages.
“It’s a small minority. I have always taken the position that you can decide how you want to respond to things any way you want to,” Roberts said. “There are people that say, ‘I don’t think putting a social justice message is enough, so I’m not going to do that.’ Or others say, ‘That is not how I roll. I’d rather do something more meaningful.’ Or some others may say that they just don’t want anything on their jersey. And that’s the beauty of being an American. You can do anything you want.”
Said Tatum: “In the conversations that we were having with the players’ association, there was a view from the executive committee that there might be some players who want to play for their family name and that is what is important to them. Part of the conversation we had early on was some guys said that wanted to play for their family with their [last] name on the back.”
Tatum told The Undefeated that NBA players will have shooting shirts that say “Black Lives Matter” to wear during games. He also confirmed that “Black Lives Matter” will be displayed on the court. Tatum said that the league is still working on potential social justice messages displayed on the rotational signage seen courtside during games. While the NBA has recently debuted one social justice public service announcement, Tatum said more are in the works that can be used on television, radio and social media.
Tatum said that players will be offered social justice programming while in the bubble at Walt Disney World Resort. The NBA also offered the players a private Zoom conversation tonight with Eric D. Thomas, Ph.D. He is an American motivational speaker, author and minister More speakers are expected to take part in chats during the remainder of the season. Tatum added that books have been left in the hotel rooms in Orlando and there is a television channel customized with social justice programming.
“There are a lot of things that we hope to do that are still a work in progress,” Tatum said.
Tatum said he has been greeting the NBA teams as they arrive in Orlando, and he’s confident that the environment will be safe for the players during the pandemic. Seven teams arrived Tuesday, seven are scheduled to arrive Wednesday and the final eight are expected to arrive early Thursday morning. The Los Angeles Lakers, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets are among the teams slated to arrive Thursday, a source said.
“They players have read about the bubble, heard about the bubble, and are curious about it,” Tatum said. “They’re excited to play basketball and to get back on the court. We feel we have the right protocol and processes in place. There is a sense of excitement.”
Roberts said her excitement is only “tempered by the health risks.”
“Everyone is serious about appreciating the risks that are involved,” she said. “There also is excitement from a number of them that I’ve talked to about returning to play.”