With the NBA's restart in Orlando, many players wanted to ensure that the league's return didn't do anything to stop the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States.
To agree to play, the NBAPA negotiated that the games will be used as platforms to promote social justice activism with phrases on jerseys, "Black Lives Matter" t-shirts, and the same slogan written on the court.
In addition, many have begun kneeling during the national anthem in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. A gesture that began with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016.
However, former Portland Trail Blazer and Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard stood for the anthem while wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt ahead of the Heat's first game in Orlando, Saturday morning.
Heat forward Meyers Leonard stood during the national anthem but wore a Black Lives Matters t-shirt. pic.twitter.com/JmEhHJ5Zij— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpears) August 1, 2020
Leonard's brother, Bailey Leonard, joined the US Marine Corp in August 2008 and served in Afghanistan at least twice.
“Some of the conversations I’ve had over the past three days, quite literally, have been the most difficult,” Leonard told The Associated Press prior to the game. “I am with the Black Lives Matter movement and I love and support the military and my brother and the people who have fought to defend our rights in this country.”
I am a compassionate human being and I truly love all people. I can’t fully comprehend how our world, literally and figuratively, has turned into Black and white. There’s a line in the sand, so to speak: ‘If you’re not kneeling, you’re not with us.’ And that’s not true.
I will continue to use my platform, my voice and my actions to show how much I care about the African American culture and for everyone,” he added. “I live my life to serve and impact others in a positive way.
A few hours before the game, Bailey texted Meyers: “Stay true to you. Stay the course. I love you. Your family loves you. Your community loves you.”
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One day after the game, Leonard told Yahoo! Sports NBA Insider Chris Haynes that he doesn't believe that kneeling for the anthem is disrespectful, and instead called it "powerful."
Having known @MeyersLeonard for years, can say he doesn’t have prejudice bone in his body. He agonized, cried at times about not kneeling with teammates. His brother served in Marines, so it was a painful decision. I asked him if he still views kneeling as disrespectful to flag: pic.twitter.com/02YzUUtw3R— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) August 2, 2020
The former Trail Blazer talked with current Portland players Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony and former Blazers Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh before making his final decision, per Mark Spears of ESPN.
Meyers stood for the anthem with the support of his Miami Heat teammates, including team captain Udonis Haslem.
“[Him] being out there with us, as our brother, it’s still showing strength, it’s still showing unity, it’s still showing that we’re coming together for a common cause,” Haslem told the Associated Press. “People will question, ‘Why isn’t he doing it their way?’ Well, he’s standing by us. He’s supporting us. He’s with us.”
Andre Iguodala also respected his choice.
“On the one hand, we’re saying, ‘We want you to see things from our perspective,’” Iguodala said. “But by saying that, I also have to see things from his perspective. And I can see where he’s coming from.”
Leonard, along with his wife Ellie, pledged to donate $100,000 to a fund that will help pay fees that Floridians leaving jail must pay to vote.
“Because I’ve listened to Udonis and am constantly inspired by him, every single one of those dollars will go to Overtown and Liberty City, where he grew up,” Leonard told the AP, referring to two of Miami’s historically Black neighborhoods. “Those two parts of Miami were most heavily impacted by COVID-19 and voter suppression.”
Meyers was the second NBA player to stand for the anthem in the NBA's restart, after Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac who did so without wearing the Black Lives Matter t-shirt. Additionally, on Friday, San Antonio Spurs head coach and Air Forde graduate Gregg Popovich and assistant coach Becky Hammon stood for the anthem as well.
“I did feel a little bit of a load lifted off my shoulders when they did that,” Leonard told AP. “Each of those individuals had their own personal reasons, just as I do.”
While at Illinois, Bailey surprised Meyers four hours ahead of his home game against the Michigan Wolverines in a video that went viral. Bailey hadn't seen Meyers play in-person for over two years before that game. Later, the Big Ten Network produced a segment on the brothers.