All Sixers players and coaches kneeled Saturday night during the national anthem ahead of the team's first game at Disney World. Indiana Pacers players and coaches also kneeled, in addition to the game's referees.
The team decided to protest racial injustice after a tumultuous stretch of over four months since their last game that featured protests around the country after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police. The majority of players from other NBA teams have done the same ahead of their opening seeding games.
Initially, six Sixers players chose to wear pre-approved social justice messages on their jerseys:
Alec Burks - Enough
Furkan Korkmaz - Equality
Raul Neto - Equality
Kyle O'Quinn - Hear Us
Josh Richardson - Say Their Names
Matisse Thybulle - Vote
Tobias Harris ("Say Her Name") and Al Horford ("Equality") later joined the list above.
Head coach Brett Brown was asked before the game about the statement the team wanted to make during the national anthem.
Where do you begin? One of solidarity," he said. "This topic, this attention, this racial injustice issue that we're living and breathing in such a significant way and how it's impacted everybody - not just the United States. And to show … that this is a unified message - the coaches supporting the players, the league supporting the players, the Philadelphia 76ers organization … supporting our players. It's not something that we take lightly.
"We have been talking about this as a topic for many, many months, with all the flashpoints that have happened along the way. And so I think that tonight, we're not first in relation to playing a basketball game. That example with New Orleans and the Utah Jazz was placed right from the get-go. So tonight, it encompasses many, many things, but none more important than supporting the desire of our players.
In a YouTube video published Friday, Thybulle showed portions of a team discussion about the protest and the Sixers' plans to address racial injustice. Harris, who is one of the players that's used their time with reporters to call for action following the police shooting of Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency room technician, led the conversation and said "we should start with open dialogue."
"If anybody is uncomfortable taking a knee, they can express their feelings on it," he said. "We can just open that up and kind of get a gauge on how guys are feeling."
Korkmaz shared his perspective.
Where I come from, Turkey, my flag comes first, and then national anthem comes second. … I'm from Turkey, but I live here and I earn my money here," he said. "That's why I have the same respect to the American flag. But I know this is about human rights. What happens is unacceptable, and I will be with you guys 200 percent. There's no question. I will also make more impact as a white guy to be (kneeling) with you guys out there. I want to also be part of it.
"I come from a different country, 85 million population - people are going to watch. Just to think about kneeling, I didn't feel comfortable to disrespect the flag or government or whatever, and Tobias told me this is not about disrespecting the flag, this is about reaction to what happens. That's the part which I agree. That's why if we kneel all together, I will definitely be in.
Brazil native Raul Neto noted that, if asked about taking a knee, he would explain his protest was about "social injustice going on in this country," not just support for his teammates.
The Sixers in the video continued to talk about methods for activism and community service.
"However many points we score in a win, times it by 76 and we donate those funds to somebody's organization or something they're passionate about," Harris said during the discussion. "We could actually do that."
Brown is on an 11-member committee of NBA head coaches that is focused on racism and police brutality headed by Lloyd Pierce, one of his former assistants and the current Hawks head coach.
Powerful words from our NBA Head Coaches. A special thank you to Bryan Stevenson and the @eji_org for helping to educate on the true history of racial injustice.
To learn more about the Equal Justice Initiative go to: https://t.co/w5GLtkKl0i pic.twitter.com/4PCkLWn5ka
— NBA Coaches Assoc. (@NBA_Coaches) July 31, 2020
He is encouraging his players to be thoughtful and passionate about these issues even as games resume amid a pandemic.
"I think it's very important we don't forget about everything that's going on with the restart of basketball," Glenn Robinson III said on July 3.
Though no Sixers opted out of the restart, some players considered not participating under these circumstances.
"I know there are probably plenty of guys who were thinking about not even coming to this bubble because of everything that's happening right now, me included," Richardson said Thursday. "We're here, we love basketball, we're trying to win a championship, but at the same time, there's a bigger thing going on that we're all honestly here for. So I'm happy that it's happening."
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