When Nicolas Batum came out to warm up for the Portland Trail Blazers' nationally televised Thursday night matchup with the Miami Heat, the French forward wore a shirt bearing the phrase "Je Suis Charlie" — which translates to "I am Charlie" in English — in a gesture honoring the 12 victims killed Wednesday by masked gunmen in a terrorist attack at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly satirical publication that had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad.
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) January 9, 2015
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Nicolas Batum's warm up shirt tonight pic.twitter.com/HYtkgXR3dH
— Erik Gundersen (@blazerbanter) January 9, 2015
In the hours after the fatal shootings, the phrase became something of a viral slogan, a touchstone for those responding to the killings by gathering in solidarity, according to Leanne Italie of the Associated Press:
Online, the declaration "Je Suis Charlie," or "I Am Charlie," replaced profile pictures on Facebook while Twitter users showed themselves with the slogan on signs with words of support for the 12 victims [...]
The "Je Suis Charlie" slogan grew into a trending hashtag on Twitter and spread to Instagram, along with an image of a machine gun with the words "Ceci n'est pas une religion," or "This is not a religion."
One user on Instagram sent out a simple black-and-white drawing of the Eiffel Tower with the message: "Pray for Paris." Another wrote: "Islam is a beautiful religion. This is not what we see on TV. Terrorists are not real Muslims. #IamCharlie."
The 26-year-old Batum — who was born in Lisieux and began his professional basketball career in Le Mans, each of which are about a two-hour drive from Paris, and has played for the French men's national basketball team since 2009 — expressed his sorrow and frustration after the shooting on Twitter.
"Increasingly outraged by human stupidity," he wrote, according to a translation. "Big thoughts to all the families and victims of this horror."
Batum briefly discussed his thoughts on the shooting at the Blazers' Wednesday practice:
“I woke up this morning and it was the first thing I saw.,” said Batum. “That’s sad, twelve people killed like this. I have no words to explain what happened. I read that this morning, people came in and shot police. It’s sad for those people who tried to do their jobs. [...]
“We have different opinions, okay,” said Batum. “But you’ve got to respect everybody’s opinion. You can’t shoot those people… You can’t kill someone because you disagree with somebody.”
Batum is the latest in a growing number of NBA players to use the shooting shirts they wear during pre-game warmups as a canvas for social commentary. The Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat wore their shooting shirts inside-out before games during the opening round of the 2014 NBA playoffs to silently protest the incendiary racial comments made by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling and captured on now-infamous recordings published by TMZ.
More recently, a number of NBA players — from Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose to Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James to nearly every member of the Los Angeles Lakers — wore warmup shirts bearing the phrase "I Can't Breathe," which became a rallying cry after a New York grand jury's decision not to indict New York Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the July 17 death of black Staten Island resident Eric Garner. (Pantaleo placed Garner, who suffered from asthma, in a chokehold while placing him under arrest for selling untaxed cigarettes; a video of the incident showed Garner saying "I can't breathe" during the encounter that led to his death.)
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski that he supported players speaking their mind on social issues, but would prefer that such statements steer clear of league uniforms.
"I respect Derrick Rose and all of our players for voicing their personal views on important issues, but my preference would be for players to abide by our on-court attire rules," Silver told Yahoo Sports in an email.
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