With the first exhibition games of the NBA season a few days away, the players find themselves in deep preparation for what had been the least taxing part of the game: the playing of the national anthem.
When Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers chose not to stand during the national anthem before his NFL games last month, he touched off a national debate by protesting what he described as racial injustice. The anthem itself soon spread as a popular platform for other athletes, including several in the NFL and the WNBA, to make similar statements amid a series of recent fatal shootings of black men by the police.
Now, the NBA — a league that is largely black and has been vocal on social issues like gun violence and gender equality in recent months — is navigating its way back into the conversation as the season nears.
In its rule book, the NBA requires players, coaches and trainers to "stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line" during the national anthem. But it is unlikely that the league would discipline any players who engage in a silent protest. Last week, every player on the WNBA's Indiana Fever took a knee and linked arms during the anthem before a playoff game against the Phoenix Mercury. No players were punished.
Like several other players around the league, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks said Monday that he expected to talk with his teammates in the coming days about how to approach the anthem and, more important, how to help effect meaningful change. Some athletes said that sitting or kneeling during the anthem would feel like more of the same rather than provoke discussion or action.
"We want to do it in the right way," Anthony said. "Whatever we do we want to do it as a collective group. I don't know what that is yet. We'll figure that out. But we want to do it all together."
That sentiment was shared by the Brooklyn Nets' Jeremy Lin, who said that his friends had been asking him whether he would do anything during the anthem.
"I haven't completely figured it out," Lin said.
But Lin did say that he would not do something on his own. If the Nets were to choose to send a message, he said, he would want them to do it in a unified way.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Michele Roberts, the executive director of the players union, sent a joint letter to the players last week in which they vowed to find ways in which to take "meaningful action" as the country continues to cope with unrest over police-related shootings. The letter did not mention the anthem policy.
On Monday, Anthony said he had been saddened by the arc of events in recent weeks: more police shootings recorded on video, more unrest in cities like Charlotte.
"I think it's actually getting worse and it will continue to get worse," Anthony said. "We still have to keep the conversation going."
At the same time, Anthony said the message had to transcend "one gesture."
As the Warriors' Stephen Curry put it, "I hope going forward it's not about who's raising their fist, who's kneeling, who's standing, who's doing this and that. It's about what Colin and other guys — what the message is, and whether we're all going to stand for it."