In one fell swoop, Jonathan Isaac became the anti-Colin Kaepernick.
Before a Nets-Magic game on July 31, Orlando’s star forward chose not to take a knee for the anthem or wear a Black Lives Matter shirt. Although Isaac explained his decision came from religious reasons, that rationale didn’t sit well with media members.
Whether or not one agrees with Isaac’s rationale, one thing is clear: By not visually protesting with his Orlando Magic teammates, Isaac exposed the NBA world’s hypocrisy in the process.
Jonathan Isaac didn’t kneel for the national anthem
Although the NBA’s policy is players must stand for the national anthem, the league waived that rule for the NBA’s restart in Orlando.
The first games back, from LeBron James and the Lakers taking on the Clippers to Isaac’s Magic squaring off with the Nets, featured players taking a knee.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in 2016. Kaepernick said at the time the gesture came from his urge to fight police brutality and social inequality in America.
When the Magic played the Brooklyn Nets on July 31, players from both sides wore Black Lives Matter shirts and took a knee during the anthem.
That is, everyone but Isaac. The 22-year-old, who is Black, instead wore his Magic game jersey.
Isaac scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds in Orlando’s 128-118 victory over the Nets, who are without Kevin Durant and other starters because of injuries or the coronavirus.
Jonathan Isaac cited his religion for why he didn’t take a knee
Pictures featuring Jonathan Isaac standing while his teammates and coaches took a knee immediately went viral on Twitter.
In a postgame Zoom session with reporters, Isaac cited his religious views for not taking a knee.
Isaac also shot down the idea he didn’t believe black lives matter.
“I do believe that Black lives matter, but I just felt like it was a decision that I had to make, and I didn’t feel like putting that shirt on and kneeling went hand in hand with supporting Black lives.”
Isaac’s teammates and the Magic organization defended his decision.
“He had his personal reasons for deciding to stand, so if he wants to share that with you guys, I will leave that up to him. Of course, we respect his decision and we know where he stands,” center Nikola Vucevic said.
Isaac was not the only NBA figure who didn’t take a knee. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and assistant Becky Hammon each stood during the Spurs’ 129-120 victory over the Kings.
Popovich and Hammon each wore Black Lives Matter shirts.
The NBA world exposed its own hypocrisy by targeting Isaac
The NBA world reacted with surprise and vitriol when Isaac elected not to take a knee.
“Standing for the anthem is one thing,” Dane Moore, who covers the Minnesota Timberwolves, wrote. “But seeming to be intentional about *not* wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt…. I dunno, man…”
Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks asked Isaac, a Black man from Brooklyn, N.Y., if he believed Black lives mattered.
All of this happened because a 22-year-old didn’t wear a shirt with the rest of his teammates.
Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press reminded basketball fans who Isaac was, beyond a shirt and a knee.
“Jonathan Isaac is an ordained minister, someone who gave money to make sure kids got fed when COVID closed schools, led a drive to support Hurricane Dorian victims and donates to Central Florida literacy programs. And as he stood during the anthem today, he prayed.”
Nothing has changed since Colin Kaepernick took a knee, except the tables have turned. When Kaepernick took a knee — and other players followed — media and fans alike wanted to know what possessed them to protest during the national anthem.
Now, the opposite holds true. Any player who doesn’t take a knee is subject to criticism. Even in a time where players have been told to speak out for what they believe in.
“You can do all of those things and still be wrong about this situation,” one Twitter user wrote back to Reynolds. “It doesn’t make him a bad person. He just botched this particular thing.”
The Magic play the Kings on Sunday, August 2. All eyes will be on Isaac to see if he continues standing, or if media-induced pressure will feature him mimicking his teammates.