ORLANDO, Fla. – The NBA is collaborating with the National Basketball Players Association to allow players to wear jerseys with personalized social justice messages on the backs instead of their last names during the season comeback in Orlando, according to Oklahoma City Thunder guard and players union president Chris Paul.
“We’re just trying to continue to shed light on the different social justice issues that guys around our league continue to talk about day in and day out,” Paul told ESPN’s The Undefeated. “People are saying that social justice will be off of everybody’s mind in Orlando. With these jerseys, it doesn’t go away.”
Personalized messages on the back of jerseys is one of many ways the NBA and NBPA plan to amplify social justice causes during the season comeback in Orlando. Last week, the NBA and NBPA announced that sparking societal change would be the goal of the restart.
While players will not be forced to wear a message, Paul says they will provide a list of suggestions for players looking for a cause to support. According to ESPN, these messages could include phrases (like "Black Lives Matter" or "I Can't Breathe"), names of social justice organizations, or the names of individuals who were killed by the police.
"The guys I talked to were definitely excited," Paul said. "The reason I'm passionate and excited about it is that it gives a voice to the voiceless. It also gives guys a chance to shine a light on something they are passionate about. Otherwise, they may not have been given a chance to express themselves."
Players and teams have been active at protests across the country, and on social media, to fight for social justice and the end to police brutality. Paul told ESPN the NBPA plans to reach out to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Trayvon Martin and others whose deaths have sparked outrage across the country to get their permission to wear their names.
“I was just thinking about how forward-thinking our league is and how passionate the players in our league are about different issues,” Paul said. “Our guys have been marching on the front lines and using their platforms. If guys are choosing to come down to Orlando to make sacrifices and play this game, why not be able to play and still say his or her name at the same time?”
The league is planning to begin play on July 30 in Orlando, Fla.