Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul, president of the National Basketball Players Association, told ESPN’s The Undefeated on Saturday that the players’ union and the league are collaborating to allow players to wear jerseys with personalized social justice, social cause or charity messages on the backs instead of their last names during the upcoming restart of the NBA season.
The personalized statements on jerseys are part of a long list of social justice messages the players plan to make through the remainder of the season, which restarts July 30 in Orlando, Florida. The NBA and the NBPA announced an agreement on Wednesday to continue to discuss fighting systemic racism and to make it one of the main focuses of the restart. Personalized jerseys could say such things as “Black Lives Matter” or “I Can’t Breathe,” bring light to a social or charitable cause or even display the names of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, who were killed by police in recent months.
“We’re just trying to continue to shed light on the different social justice issues that guys around our league continue to talk about day in and day out,” Paul told The Undefeated. “People are saying that social justice will be off of everybody’s mind in Orlando. With these jerseys, it doesn’t go away.”
NBA players were involved in nationwide protests, vocal on social media and active in the aftermath of Floyd’s death on May 25 in Minneapolis and Taylor’s death on March 13 in Louisville, Kentucky, at the hands of police. For players who would rather raise awareness with their jerseys for causes or charities not connected to social injustice, police brutality or other racial issues, Paul said that will be accepted as well. Paul, whose Thunder will be playing in the NBA restart, said he has not decided what he would want on the back of his jersey.
Paul said he has talked to numerous players, including some who are not Black, who support the jersey idea. He said players will not be forced and pressured to wear jerseys with social justice messages. There will also be suggestions offered to players looking for a cause to support. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Friday in a media conference call that the league “has work to do” to make progress in hiring African Americans in notable roles, and the need for diversity was discussed at a recent board of governors meeting. The NBA was made up of 74.9% Black players during the 2018-19 season, according to the 2019 NBA Complete Racial and Gender Report Card released last week by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida.
“The guys I talked to were definitely excited,” Paul said. “The reason I’m passionate and excited about it is that it gives a voice to the voiceless. It also gives guys a chance to shine a light on something they are passionate about. Otherwise, they may not have been given a chance to express themselves.”
Paul protested peacefully at a Black Lives Matter event in Los Angeles and has been vocal on social media about racial injustice and police brutality. The 15-year NBA veteran said he hopes the jerseys will spark more conversation about each player’s social message or cause. Paul also said the NBPA plans to reach out to the families of Floyd, Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin and others whose deaths have sparked outrage across the country to get their permission and blessing to use names on the backs of NBA jerseys.
“I was just thinking about how forward-thinking our league is and how passionate the players in our league are about different issues,” Paul said. “Our guys have been marching on the front lines and using their platforms. If guys are choosing to come down to Orlando to make sacrifices and play this game, why not be able to play and still say his or her name at the same time?
“At marches they are saying, ‘Say his name … George Floyd. Say her name … Breonna Taylor.’ Obviously, we have to reach out to the families to see if that is OK.”