The NBA regular season opened on TNT tonight, and LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates locked arms during the national anthem. No one on the visiting Boston Celtics appeared to take part as a retired Navy man belted out the song.
James and some teammates had their heads bowed as the camera showed them near the end of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but there was no kneeling or other obvious protests.
During the pregame show, analyst Kenny Smith was asked whether he thought there would be any protest during the anthem. “If they feel they need to create more awareness in certain situations, I think they should do it — because protest is going to make the comfortable uncomfortable. … Protest creates awareness then creates change. You can’t bypass it.”
Fellow analyst Charles Barkley disagreed.
“I’m sick of hearing about protests,” he said. “We have spent so much time worrying about who’s kneeling and who’s got the fist up, and we have not come up with solutions.” Asked by Smith who Barkley meant by “we,” the NBA Hall of Famer said, “Everybody. We’re all in this thing together.”
Said analyst Shaquille O’Neal: “I agree with Chuck. Enough talking. When are we going to do something about it? … When you allow people to deviate from what you’re trying to do, then they can create other problems. They always say, ‘We’re not disrespecting the flag,’ but when you allow people to say, ‘You are disrespecting the flag by doing it during the national anthem,’ is the message really being heard?”