OKLAHOMA CITY – As the NBA neared its restart in late July, its players vowed to keep the calls for social justice reform at the forefront in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
The basketball stars weren't the only athletes to act.
In a most unusual year already thrown into chaos by the coronavirus pandemic, many athletes took unprecedented steps when a nationwide reckoning on race spilled into the streets of American cities after the death of Floyd, a Black man, during a May arrest in Minneapolis.
Normally focused on the games they play, this time the sports world stood up — U.S. Open tennis champion Naomi Osaka, NASCAR's Bubba Wallace, the NFL's Malcolm Jenkins and Kenny Stills, WNBA star Nneka Ogwumike, and basketball's Chris Paul, LeBron James and Steph Curry were among the most prominent players to help turn protest cries of “Black Lives Matter, ” “Say His Name” and “Say Her Name” into tangible action.
The NBA painted “Black Lives Matter” on the courts inside their Orlando, Florida, “bubble" and social justice messages were emblazoned on the backs of jerseys. Players and coaches during “The Star-Spangled Banner" locked arms and knelt.
Kneeling, which drew the ire of President Donald Trump and several team owners when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick started doing it in 2016 to protest racial injustice, became a ubiquitous gesture during the national anthem this year -- and during rallies after Floyd was killed by a white police officer who pressed a knee against his neck for nearly eight minutes.
As excitement built as games returned, another sobering moment pushed the sports world to mobilize. Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times by police on Aug. 23 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
“We all hurt,” Chris Paul, president of the National Basketball Players Association, said at the time. “We’re all tired of just seeing the same thing over and over again, and everybody just expects us to be OK just because we get paid great money. We’re human. We have real feelings.”