Meyers Leonard has a brother who served two tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. Marines. He carries a military-themed backpack, wears combat boots and is friends with Navy SEALs.
“I absolutely believe black lives matter,” he said.
But Leonard couldn’t bring himself to kneel for the national anthem.
Wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt, and as all other coaches and players around him knelt, Leonard stood for the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Saturday before the Heat restarted their season by facing the Denver Nuggets at Walt Disney World.
“Some of the conversations I’ve had over the past three days, quite literally, have been the most difficult,” Leonard told The Associated Press prior to the game.
“I am with the Black Lives Matter movement and I love and support the military and my brother and the people who have fought to defend our rights in this country.”
Leonard agonized over the decision. He explained his reasoning to current teammates and several former ones — then stood near midcourt, hand over his heart, as the anthem played.
“I am a compassionate human being and I truly love all people,” Leonard said.
“I can’t fully comprehend how our world, literally and figuratively, has turned into black and white. There’s a line in the sand, so to speak: ‘If you’re not kneeling, you’re not with us.’ And that’s not true.”
“I will continue to use my platform, my voice and my actions to show how much I care about the African-American culture and for everyone,” he added.
“I live my life to serve and impact others in a positive way.”
The focus of the restarted NBA season has been on the Black Lives Matter movement.
Teams are kneeling, often linking arms, for the national anthem along a sideline where “Black Lives Matter” is painted.
Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac stood for the anthem before his team’s game on Friday and opted not to wear the Black Lives Matter shirt that players and coaches have donned for warm-ups.
Later Friday, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich and Spurs assistant Becky Hammon both stood for the anthem.
Popovich, a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, stood with arms at his side. Hammon draped her arms over the shoulders of fellow assistant Will Hardy and Spurs guard Patty Mills.
“I did feel a little bit of a load lifted off my shoulders when they did that,” Leonard said. “Each of those individuals had their own personal reasons, just as I do.”
Heat forward Andre Iguodala, a member of the National Basketball Players Association’s executive committee, said he respected Leonard’s choice.
“On the one hand, we’re saying, ‘We want you to see things from our perspective,’” Iguodala said.
“But by saying that, I also have to see things from his perspective. And I can see where he’s coming from.”
Heat captain Udonis Haslem had multiple conversations with Leonard in recent days about his decision.
Haslem originally wished to see Leonard kneel, but after those talks he came away with understanding — and vowed the Heat would support their teammate.
“His being out there with us, as our brother, it’s still showing strength, it’s still showing unity, it’s still showing that we’re coming together for a common cause,” Haslem said.
“People will question, ‘Why isn’t he doing it their way?’ Well, he’s standing by us. He’s supporting us. He’s with us.”
Leonard raised $180,000 in April by streaming himself playing video games online; that money went to causes such as Feeding South Florida, a group with which Haslem and the Heat work closely.
And Saturday, Leonard said he and his wife will donate $100,000 to a fund that helps pay the fees that Floridians leaving prisons must settle before they can vote.
Former teammates have warned Leonard that he may face criticism, possibly from fellow NBA players.
But Saturday morning, a few hours before the anthem, Bailey Leonard, the former Marine, texted his brother and said, “Stay true to you. Stay the course. I love you. Your family loves you. Your community loves you.”
If Leonard had any doubt, it evaporated there.
“I know he’s proud of me,” Leonard said. “And if he’s proud of me, and if my brothers on this team are with me, then I know this is what I have to do.”
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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