Adam Silver confirmed kneeling during the national anthem is against the NBA rules, but added he respects peaceful protest and acknowledged "these are highly unusual times."
The 2019-20 NBA season is set to return Thursday amid the coronavirus pandemic. As well as the global crisis, the season's suspension has coincided with a period of protest across the United States and beyond following the death of George Floyd in police custody.
The incident brought the Black Lives Matter movement to the fore, with its message to be painted on the floor for the upcoming games in Florida.
Here is the NBA restart court in Orlando: the spaced out chairs are the socially distanced bench, Black Lives Matter is written on the court. pic.twitter.com/XGJu1w4QLC— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) July 21, 2020
Sports stars across the world have subsequently taken to kneeling before games, echoing NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick's 2016 national anthem demonstration against racial injustice and police brutality. WNBA players preferred to remain in their locker rooms during the anthem.
Further protests are anticipated in the NBA, starting with Thursday's opener between the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz.
But commissioner Silver is understanding of his players' desire to make a stand.
"The NBA has had a rule on its books that preceded David Stern, which was standing for the national anthem," Silver told Good Morning America on ABC. "Having said that, I respect peaceful protest. I'm not sure what our players will do when they come out tomorrow night and we'll of course address it at the time, but I also understand these are highly unusual times."
The NBA rule for the anthem can be found in the league's rulebook:
Players, coaches and trainers must stand and line up in a dignified posture along the foul lines during the playing of the American and/or Canadian national anthems.
Silver recognizes such demonstrations are especially important in the NBA, a predominantly black league, where he revealed Floyd's death almost halted the season.
"It's been part of our history. I think of it as part of the DNA of this league," he said. "You think of Bill Russell and some of the early players, their activism over the years. Now an issue like the killing of George Floyd comes and you have a league, in the case of the NBA, that is roughly 80% black — similarly with the WNBA. These are issues in terms of racial inequities in society that are near and dear to their hearts. Right at the time that we were making plans to relaunch the season is when the death of George Floyd occurred.
"It frankly nearly prevented us from relaunching the season, given the turmoil and how emotional people were around the league — and around the country, for that matter. It was very important then when we came together to think about what we could do to use this platform to affect change. The messaging is just part of it, but the images show the court saying Black Lives Matter on the floor, plus the players will be wearing messages on their jerseys. Beyond that, we're working collectively with the 30 NBA teams on a foundation dedicated to economic empowerment, specifically focused on black Americans. This has been a part of the league forever."