In American sports, the NBA is at the forefront of advocating for racial justice. So it’s not a surprise that many of the league’s players, and some entire teams, have been kneeling during the playing of the national anthem to silently protest what they believe to be social injustice happening around the country.
One player who has continued to stand during the anthem, despite his teammates kneeling, is Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard. He is helping to send a message of unity to basketball fans through his actions, which are inspired by his appreciation for the military.
Meyers Leonard’s NBA career
The Portland Trail Blazers drafted Leonard out of Illinois with the 11th pick in the 2012 NBA draft, and he played seven seasons for Portland before being traded to the Heat last offseason.
Leonard has averaged 5.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in 16.1 minutes per game over his eight seasons. He had one of the best seasons of his career this year, scoring 6.1 points and grabbing 5.1 rebounds per game in 20.3 minutes on the court, the second-highest playing time average of his career.
Meyers Leonard decided to stand for the anthem
The Undefeated talked to Leonard about him continuing to stand for the anthem, which he had been doing since the Heat’s August 1 return to action but gained more attention when the team was in the playoffs, particularly the NBA Finals, when the league gets its biggest TV audiences of the season.
Leonard says he was surprised to see his name trending on Twitter following Game 1 of the Finals, with people calling him a racist for not kneeling with his teammate during the anthem. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
What are the reasons for standing?
Leonard says in the article he has “pain in [his] heart for what’s going on in America, particularly to the African American community” and that doesn’t have anything to do with his decision of whether to stand or kneel.
The reason he stands, as ESPN explains, is because of his patriotism, which he says “runs deep.” Leonard chooses to stand for the anthem because of “his respect for the U.S. military.”
The military has special meaning to Leonard because his brother Bailey served two tours in Afghanistan with the Marines after enlisting in the wake of 9/11. Leonard has also spoken with SEAL Team 6 operators who fight the worst of the worst, and who have terrible stories to tell.
Meyers Leonard and his Miami Heat teammates show unity
Even though Leonard is the only member of the team to stand for the anthem, there is no animosity between him and the rest of the squad. He acknowledges that he knows his teammates ” aren’t kneeling to disrespect the flag or the military” and that they have their own reasons for protesting — which he respects.
On the other hand, the center says he has his reasons for standing, and his teammates respect him for that, and they have embraced him. Leonard says he is thankful for his teammates’ reactions and acceptance of his decision because, he says, “they know I’m pure in the heart and in the fight with them as well.”
Learning from his teammates
Leonard recalls coming from a rural, white farming community — which is different from his teammates. He admits to learning from his teammates’ stories and personal experiences, including the pain that they have gone through in their lives.
Leonard grew up poor and without a dad, but he still has “white privilege,” and hasn’t had some of the experiences that his teammates have, including when former teammate CJ McCollum was pulled over for barely driving over the speed limit and asked by the police officer what he was doing “around here.”
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference