NEW YORK — Six players, including Cavaliers star forward LeBron James, wore T-shirts that said “I Can’t Breathe” during pregame warmups before Cleveland played the Brooklyn Nets on Monday at the Barclays Center.
The message was the players’ way of speaking out about the non-indictment in the Eric Garner case. Garner died in July when he was placed in a chokehold by a New York City police officer, an incident caught on videotape. “I can’t breathe” were his last words. A grand jury recently decided against indicting the officer involved in the case.
The T-shirts were provided by Nets guard Jarrett Jack, who also wore one, as did Brooklyn forward Kevin Garnett and guards Deron Williams and Alan Anderson, as well as James and Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving.
“It’s more a notion to the family than anything,” James said. “Obviously, as a society we have to do better, we have to be better for one another. It doesn’t matter what race you are. It’s more of a shout out to the family more than anything. They’re the ones that should be getting all the energy and effort.”
Garnett added, “Obviously we’re not on the front line of this movement, but I think it’s important to give to these communities and support these communities.”
Irving told reporters, “I think it’s really important that we show our respect to the families. More importantly, we’re in the city where the tragedy happened, and it’s really important to us that we stand up for a cause, especially this one. It hits close to home and means a lot to me.”
Chicago guard Derrick Rose wore an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt before the Bulls’ home game Saturday against the Golden State Warriors.
The NBA won’t fine players who wear the statement-making T-shirts, USA Today Sports reported, citing an anonymous source.
Nets coach Lionel Hollins said of the players, “They should be political. They should be about social awareness. Basketball is just a small part of life. If they don’t think that there is justice or they feel like there is something that they protest, then they should. That is their right as citizens of America, and I have no problem with that all.”
A few hundred protesters were outside the Barclays Center before the game, chanting, “I can’t breathe,” “No Justice, no peace” and “No racist cops.” Additionally, protesters laid down in front of the arena’s main entrance for about 10 minutes.
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