5:59 PM ET
- Lakers and NBA reporter for ESPN.
- Covered the Lakers and NBA for ESPNLosAngeles.com from 2009-14, the Cavaliers from 2014-18 for ESPN.com and the NBA for NBA.com from 2005-09.
Dave McMenaminESPN Staff Writer
The NBA is back, and the back of LeBron James’ jersey will still look the same.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ star on Saturday said he’ll be one of the few NBA players who will forgo a social justice message on the back of his jersey when the season resumes in Orlando, Florida.
“I actually didn’t go with a name on the back of my jersey,” James said on a video conference call with reporters. “It was no disrespect to the list that was handed out to all the players. I commend anyone that decides to put something on the back of their jersey. It’s just something that didn’t really seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal.
“I would have loved to have a say-so on what would have went on the back of my jersey. I had a couple things in mind, but I wasn’t part of that process, which is OK. I’m absolutely OK with that. … I don’t need to have something on the back of my jersey for people to understand my mission or know what I’m about and what I’m here to do.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, 285 of the expected 350 eligible NBA players had picked a social justice message to put on their jerseys, while 17 had opted to continue to use their names instead, National Basketball Players’ Association executive director Michele Roberts told ESPN’s The Undefeated earlier this week.
The list of the suggested messages that were agreed on by the NBPA and the NBA and then made available to players via email, per the source, are: Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can’t Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.
James’ teammate, JaVale McGee, is among the players who will wear a message, choosing “Respect Us” for the back of his No. 7 Lakers uniform.
“I definitely feel like respect is a key factor in social injustices,” McGee said Saturday. “I feel like we definitely need to get equality. We definitely need to get the same respect everybody else does.”
McGee, who suffers from asthma, also said he feels “pretty safe” in the bubble because of the precautions the league is enforcing.
“I feel like I’m so focused — and I’ve been focused all year — on one goal, and that’s winning the NBA championship,” McGee said. “So if I go through how I’ve been going through life my whole life … I mean, I had asthma, I could’ve quit then. So I feel like I’ve just got to keep going.”
James said he didn’t give any thought to sitting out the remainder of the season despite a surge of COVID-19 cases in Florida and the social justice movement that has occurred since George Floyd was killed while in police custody.
“It never crossed my mind that we did not need to play this beautiful game of basketball that brings so many people together, that brings happiness, that brings joy,” James said. “I’m happy to have a platform where not only people will gain joy by the way I play the game, by the way our team plays the game, but for also for what I’m able to do off the court, as well.
“Being able to use my platform, use the NBA’s platform, to continue to talk about what’s going on. Because I will not stop until I see real change for us in Black America, for African Americans, for people of color. And I also believe I can do both, though.”
James, 35, spoke to reporters while wearing a black, baseball-style hat with his slogan, “More Than An Athlete,” stitched on the front and sporting a thick, graying beard that he grew while sheltering at home.
Saturday’s first group practice for the Lakers came four months to the day that the league went on hiatus because of the coronavirus.
“It gave me an opportunity to be home and make up a lot of time that I’ve lost over the years because I’ve been playing in this league and striving to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, to ever play this game,” James said. “So sacrificing my family at times was the most challenging and hardest part of it all.”
What hasn’t been difficult for the Lakers thus far was finding the team camaraderie that helped them to the No. 1 record in the Western Conference when the season shut down.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said backup center Dwight Howard joined the team in Orlando. Howard and Danny Green did not practice Saturday because of a “glitch” in their testing protocol, a league source told ESPN. The Lakers are hopeful both will join the team for practice Sunday.
Citing “privacy concerns,” Vogel would not divulge how many players of the Lakers’ 17-man roster are currently with the team.
“It’s like we never left,” James said. “We picked right up where we left off.”