LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and many Brooklyn players wore “I can't breathe” shirts while they warmed up for Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Nets.
Outside of Barclay's Center in New York City, a group of about 300 protesters blocked streets and chanted, “I can't breathe,” in memory of Eric Garner, a black man who died after a white New York police officer put him in a chokehold, and “Hands up, don't shoot,” a reference to the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen fatally shot by a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. In both deaths, a grand jury decided not to indict the officer involved.
Some in the crowd rushed to the barricades in front of Barclay's Center as ticket-holders waited to go in. A small group entered a Target store, but left after police officers moved in.
Inside the center, Cleveland Cavaliers' James and Kyrie Irving were among the players wearing T-shirts that said “I can't breathe” —Garner's last words, which have become a rallying cry for protesters since last week's grand jury decision.
“It was a message to the family. That I'm sorry for their loss, sorry to his wife. That's what it's about,” James said after the Cavaliers' 110-88 victory. “I think everybody else gets caught up in everything else besides who's really feeling it, and that's the family. That's what it's about.”
James, a four-time MVP, has a history of speaking out, often via Twitter. In April, he responded by saying “There is no room for Donald Sterling in our league”after the Los Angeles Clippers owner was purportedly caught on tape expressing bigoted views about African-Americans.
Last month, he took to Twitter to respond to the Missouri grand jury’s decision, saying “In some way, shape or form that has to stop from a pedestrian with a firearm or a cop with a firearm. … It's a sensitive subject and it's a thing that we just can't continue to go through.”
Last night he told the New York Times, “As a society, we have to do better. No matter what race you are.”
The “I can’t breathe” shirts began appearing over the weekend when Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose wore one before a game Saturday and James said Sunday he wanted one. He got it from Nets guard Jarrett Jack, who provided them to players on both teams. A few NFL players had the saying written on different items of gear and shirts during pregame warm-ups before games on Sunday, including St. Louis Rams guard Davin Joseph, Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush and Cleveland Browns cornerback Johnson Bademosi.
Rapper Jay-Z, a former part-owner of the Nets who still attends some games, also gave some of the shirts to the team Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams, Jarrett Jack and Alan Anderson.
“D-Will brought it to the guys that wanted to wear it and support the cause, and the ones that wanted to wear it wore it,” Garnett said. “I think it is important.”'
James said he and Irving did not discuss their plans to wear the jerseys beforehand. Irving went to warm up first, and at that point James was still saying it was only a “possibility” that he would be wearing it.
“'We're our own men, and we didn't talk about it,” James said. “When we seen each other wearing the shirts, we looked at each other and just gave the nod. It goes from there.”
The game was attended by Britain's Prince William and his wife, Kate, as well as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver who banned Sterling for life for making “deeply offensive” and “harmful” racist remarks.
''I respect Derrick Rose and all of our players for voicing their personal views on important issues but my preference would be for players to abide by our on-court attire rules,'' Silver said.
Players are required to wear attire from Adidas, the league's official apparel provider.
Al Jazeera with wire services