ORLANDO, Fla. (KFOR) – The entire Oklahoma City Thunder team knelt together during the National Anthem on Saturday, before the start of their first official game since the NBA restarted.
The Thunder defeated the Utah Jazz 110-94 in Orlando, Fla., where all NBA games are being played for the remainder of the season.
The 2019-20 NBA season officially restarted on Thursday, July 30, after being interrupted in March by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The season came to an abrupt halt on the night of March 11, right before the start of the Thunder’s game against the Jazz. Shortly prior to tip-off, Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVDI-19. The game was cancelled, and later that same night, the season was suspended.
NBA teams have been kneeling during the National Anthem since the season restarted.
Players are kneeling in protest against frequent instances of police brutality committed against black people.
While the NBA was on hiatus, the nation was shaken by the death of George Floyd.
Floyd, a black man, died on May 25 beneath the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Chauvin and three other officers attempted to arrest Floyd and took him down to the ground.
Chauvin put his knee down on the back of Floyd’s neck. Floyd pleaded for his life, saying he could not breathe and calling out to his dead mother. Chauvin kept his knee pressed down against the back of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
Floyd’s death ignited massive protests across the nation, as well as in major cities across the globe.
Oklahoma State Rep. Sean Roberts (R-Hominy), on Friday, issued a statement warning Oklahoma City Thunder players against kneeling during the National Anthem, and threatening to reexamine the Thunder’s tax benefits if they knelt.
“If the Oklahoma City Thunder leadership and players follow the current trend of the NBA by kneeling during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game, perhaps we need to reexamine the significant tax benefits the State of Oklahoma granted the Oklahoma City Thunder organization when they came to Oklahoma. Through the Quality Jobs Act, the Thunder is still under contract to receive these tax breaks from our state until 2024,” Roberts said in the statement.
Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt expressed his support on Twitter, Saturday, for the Thunder and their fight against racial inequality.
KFOR reached out to Thunder personnel for a statement in response to Roberts’ warning and threat, but have not yet received a response.
The act of kneeling during the anthem began in 2016 with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose intention was to protest police violence against black people.
Kaepernick first protested police brutality and the killing of unarmed black people by remaining seated on the 49ers’ team bench during the playing of the anthem before the 49ers’ third pre-season game of the 2016 season.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” Kaepernick said following the game.
Kaepernick later had a conversation with Nate Boyer, a former NFL player and U.S. military veteran.
Kaepernick asked Boyer if there was a way in which he could protest police brutality without offending members of the military.
Boyer suggested that Kaepernick kneel for the anthem.
Kaepernick took a knee during the anthem for the first time before the start of the 49ers’ fourth and final preseason game of 2016. He knelt during the anthem prior to every game that season. While most players stood for the anthem, other players in the NFL joined Kaepernick’s protest by also taking a knee.
Kneeling during the anthem became a divisive issue across the nation, with many Americans praising it as a peaceful protest against a longstanding problem within law enforcement. However, many other Americans decried Kaepernick’s actions as disrespectful to the United States flag and military members past and present.