LeBron James won’t have a social justice message on the back of his jersey for the NBA’s restart, the Lakers all-star forward said during a video call with reporters Saturday afternoon.
“I will continue to do [work] off the floor and when I’m talking to you guys — everything that I do has a purpose, it has a meaning,” James said. “So, I don’t need to have something on the back of my jersey for people to understand my mission or know what I’m about and what I’m here to do.
"But I commend everybody and I respect everybody that decided to put something on the back of their jersey. I think that’s great and I also respect anyone that didn’t.”
James spoke before the Lakers’ first practice since March, when the NBA season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Lakers arrived in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday night and immediately began a 36-hour quarantine. They cleared that quarantine around midday Eastern time Saturday and were able to leave their hotel rooms and prepare for practice.
Dwight Howard, who considered skipping the restart, met the team in Orlando. A video, circulated from Rajon Rondo’s Instagram account, showed a hotel room inside the bubble more than a day before the Lakers arrived, but coach Frank Vogel said Rondo flew with the rest of the team on Thursday night.
They practiced at 5 p.m. local time and kept secret which players and staff members were available to train in order to avoid speculation about the results of league-mandated COVID-19 testing.
“Because of privacy concerns, [we're] not going to disclose the number of guys and whether or not we have our full staff at this time,” Vogel said. “We’re going to continue to honor the testing protocols and just not disclose that.”
In planning the restart to the NBA season, the league and players' union worked together to decide to allow players to replace the names on the back of their jerseys with a preapproved slogan. They approved 29: 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, 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.
“It’s just something that didn't really seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal,” James said. “I would have loved to have the say-so on what would have went on the back of my jersey. I had a couple things in mind, but I wasn’t part of that process, which is OK. I’m absolutely OK with that.”
James isn’t the only Laker to express lukewarm sentiments about the league providing a preapproved list in conjunction with the players' union (National Basketball Players Assn.), which did not consult most of its membership. Kyle Kuzma said he wished he could have chosen a more personal message.
Some Lakers have decided to use the preapproved slogans. JaVale McGee plans to put “Respect Us” on the back of his jersey.
“I definitely feel like respect is a key factor in social injustices,” McGee said. “I feel like we definitely need to get equality, we definitely need to get the same respect everybody else does. It’s just a blessing to have this platform and the NBA doing everything they’re doing to help also.”
James agrees that the platform the NBA provides will be useful in promoting messages against racism and for social justice. He has spoken out about the way the justice system treats Black people in years past and has done so throughout the NBA’s hiatus. James helped start a voting rights organization this summer called More Than a Vote, which is designed to support Black voters and fight voter suppression in their communities.
“We will continue to push the envelope and let people know that we are human as well,” James said. “No matter our skin color, no matter how we look, no matter how we sound. We don’t want to just be used for our God-given abilities as far as our talent on the floor, our talents in the music industry, our talents in the industry as far as clothing and things of that nature. But we also want to be recognized for our talent with our brains because that’s what we are, just like everybody else. And we should be treated that way.”