In the midst of a tumultuous NBA week in which he has been a focal point, both as a leader and, in some cases, an antagonist, Lakers star LeBron James got an encouraging note from the progenitor of the current wave of athlete activism—former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose decision to begin kneeling during the national anthem to protest police violence four years ago got him excised from the NFL but inspired other players to follow suit.
James posted a note he received from Kaepernick in the wake of this week’s three-day NBA player boycott of games stemming back to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“Four years ago on August 14, 2016, I began protesting against systemic racism and social injustice,” Kaepernick wrote in the note. “Truth is what I sought. Solidarity is what you showed me. Love is what moves us forward.
“Thank you for staying true.”
“Standing/kneeling right next to you brother! Appreciate you,” James wrote on the post.
LeBron James Has Cited Kaepernick Before
Back in late May, after video emerged of an officer in Minneapolis kneeling on the neck of a Black man, George Floyd, for nearly nine minutes, James also evoked the image of Kaepernick, presenting the eventual death of Floyd as part and parcel to the reason that Kaepernick was kneeling in the first place.
He posted a photo of the officer kneeling—the since-fired and arrested Derek Chauvin—next to a photo of Kaepernick kneeling in his Niners uniform during the national anthem.
The word, “This …” was above Chauvin and, “… Is Why,” was written above Kaepernick.
“Do you understand NOW!!??!!??” James wrote on the photos. “Or is it still blurred to you??”
LeBron James Spoke Out on Jacob Blake Shooting
James has been a central figure during the contentious and unforgettable week in the NBA, which began with the shooting of Blake seven times in the back last Sunday.
James was unvarnished in speaking about the incident on Monday following the team’s Game 4 win over the Trail Blazers in the opening round of the NBA playoffs.
“I know people get tired of hearing me say it, but we are scared as Black people in America,” James said in his postgame press conference. “Black men, Black women, Black kids, we are terrified.”
James expressed the fear Black people feel, being at the whims of the police.
“You have no idea how that cop that day left the house,” he said. “You don’t know if he woke up on the right side of the bed, you don’t know if he woke up on the wrong side of the bed, you don’t know if he had an argument at home with his significant other, you don’t know if one of his kids said something crazy to him and he left the house steaming. Maybe he just left the house saying, today is going to be the end for one of these Black people. That’s what it feels like. That’s what it feels like. It hurts.”
LeBron James at Center Stage During NBA Boycott
But what James did not know was that the incident would be a tipping point for some NBA players in the league’s so-called “bubble,” particularly for the Milwaukee Bucks, who play their games just about 30 miles north of Kenosha. When it came time for the Bucks to take the floor for Game 5 of their series against Orlando on Wednesday afternoon, the team decided to boycott and remain in the locker room.
That set off the postponement of all games on Wednesday, including the Lakers’ Game 5 against Portland. James and others were angry that the Bucks had boycotted the game without telling the Magic or anyone else. A tense evening of player meetings followed, with James’ Lakers (as well as the Clippers) voting to cancel the remainder of the playoffs.
Eventually, players reconvened and decided to push forward with the season after all, making added demands on NBA owners, including making arenas available as voting centers where possible. But James did anger some fellow players, particularly younger guys who felt he had been granted too much power.
As ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said on the network’s First Take program, “He was speaking out of pocket and was talking to players in a fashion that really turned some of these young cats off. He came across as if he was the King with some crown.”
But Kaepernick, at least, is still with him.