Update (12/9/14 2:25pm ET): The NBA has announced that they will not fine the players for wearing the “I CAN’T BREATHE” shirts.
On Monday, six Cleveland Cavaliers players, including LeBron James wore “I CAN’T BREATHE” T-shirts in honor of Eric Garner as hundreds of people protested outside the Barclays Center during the CavaliersBrooklyn Nets game.
“I can’t breathe” were the words caught on video as Eric Garner pleaded for his life as he was put in a chokehold by an NYPD officer, ultimately dying from asphyxiation.
“It was a message to the family that I’m sorry for their loss, sorry to his wife and that’s what it’s about,” James said after the game. “I think everybody gets caught up in everything else besides who’s really feeling it, and that’s the family.
“Obviously our society needs to do better. Like I said before, violence isn’t the answer and retaliation isn’t the solution. As a society, we know we have to get better. It’s not going to be done in one day. We all have to do better.”
Outside Barclays Center, hundreds of protestors chanted, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” and “No justice! No peace! No racist police!” while NYPD officers looked on.
At 7 p.m., the protestors laid down in front of the main entrance to the arena for about 10 minutes, creating a “die-in.”
Nets guard Jarrett Jack was apparently behind the statement as he provided the T-shirts to the players.
“I just wanted those other guys in the locker room to band together with us and be a part of the statement that we put out there on the court today,” Jack told USA Today.
“When you believe in something and you stand up for something, you believe in whatever comes with it as well,” Jack said. “That’s the thing people knew going into it and we understood it. If [a fine] comes our way, it does. If not, that’s it. Some things are worth more than the monetary value of it, so to speak. I applaud the guys who did it. We were on the same page as far as how we felt. We felt strongly about it and just wanted to go out there and take a stance.”
Nets coach Lionel Hollins and Cavaliers coach David Blatt both backed the players’ protest.
“They should be political. They should be about social awareness. Basketball is just a small part of life,” Hollins told reporters. “If they don’t think that there is justice or they feel like there is something that they should protest, then they should. That is their right as citizens of America, and I have no problem with it at all.”
But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver did not share the same sentiments.
“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,” he said in a statement.
LeBron James is known for being passionate and outspoken when it comes to race issues.
In May, James was one of the first players to comment on the Donald Sterling scandal, saying, “There is no room for Donald Sterling in our league.”
In 2012, while playing for the Miami Heat, James was one of the players who protested Trayvon Martin’s killing by wearing a hooded sweatshirt on the court. The players posed for a photo, which James posted on Instagram, making the statement a national headline.
He also created the hashtags #WeAreTrayvonMartin, #Hoodies, #Stereotyped and #WeWantJustice.
The “I CAN’T BREATHE” T-shirt was first seen on the court on Saturday when Chicago Bulls player Derrick Rose wore it during a game.
“I’m just happy that people paid attention to it,” Rose told ESPN. “I think it touched a lot of people because I grew up in an impoverished area like that, and sometimes [situations like that] happen a lot of times. It just touched a lot of people, and I just wanted to make sure that I got my point across.
“I’m a parent now. Probably two years ago, it probably would have been different. I probably would not have worn the shirt. But now that I’m a dad, it just changed my outlook on life, period. I don’t want my son growing up being scared of the police or even having that thought on his mind that something like that could happen.”
Following Saturday’s game, James told the New York Daily News that Rose’s shirt was “spectacular” and was looking for one for himself. That news got back to Jarrett Jack and he delivered.