NBA, union working together to plan for national anthem protests
National anthem protests by players and teams in the NFL have been allowed by the league, but things have historically been different in the NBA. There’s an actual rule in place that states players must line up and stand with their teammates while the anthem is played, so theoretically, there would be some form of discipline handed down if players chose not to comply.
The league and the union for the players are working together to plan how to handle any such protests, according to a report from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.
The official rulebook states that "Players, coaches and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line during the playing of the National Anthem." In 1996, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (then with the Denver Nuggets) was suspended indefinitely without pay for refusing to stand during the anthem. He only missed one game before a compromise was reached.
The league and the union clearly want to avoid any controversy. They sent out a joint letter to the players stating they’re working together to develop "substantive ways for us to come together and take meaningful action," but no specific mention of anthem protests was made.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been supportive of players who chose to comment on social issues in the past. The letter specifically references the way LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul addressed the "senseless acts of violence impacting our communities" at the ESPY awards in July. Also, the players who wore "I can’t breathe" t-shirts during warm-ups to bring attention to the death of Eric Garner in New York last year were not fined, even though technically those players were in violation of league uniform rules.
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) September 22, 2016