The players were taking a knee in response to the violence at the U.S. Capitol earlier in the day as a rally instantly turned violent when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building. The Heat and Celtics said in a joint statement they were contemplating on not playing the game, but decided to anyway.
Leonard, who was among the lone players to stand during the anthem in the summer when the NBA was protesting against racial injustice, explained why he stood in a tweet.
“I STAND FOR the men and women, like my brother who have served this country,” he wrote. “I STAND AGAINST the violence and riots in DC. I STAND in solidarity with my teammates and brothers. I STAND AGAINST bigotry, racism, and hate.”
“I STAND FOR HOPE that our country can one day stop using our differences to divide us and SEE how our HEARTS can unite us. I STAND WITH LOVE in my heart for EVERYONE.”
The Celtics initially walked off the court, but ESPN reported that Boston intended on playing after the team had a players’ meeting.
“2021 is a new year, but some things have not changed,” the statement said. “We play tonight’s game with a heavy heart after yesterday’s decision in Kenosha, and knowing that protesters in our nation’s capital are treated differently by political leaders depending on what side of certain issues they are on.”
“The drastic difference between the way protesters this past spring and summer were treated,” they continued, “and the encouragement given to today’s protesters who acted illegally just shows how much more work we have to do.”
The statement continued: “We have decided to play tonight’s game to try and bring joy into people’s lives. But we must not forget the injustices in our society, and we will continue to use our voices and our platform to highlight these issues and do everything we can to work for a more equal and just America. #BLACKLIVESSTILLMATTER.”
“Some of the conversations I’ve had over the past three days, quite literally, have been the most difficult,” Leonard told The Associated Press before a game. “I am with the Black Lives Matter movement and I love and support the military and my brother and the people who have fought to defend our rights in this country.”
He added: “I am a compassionate human being and I truly love all people. I can’t fully comprehend how our world, literally and figuratively, has turned into Black and white. There’s a line in the sand, so to speak: ‘If you’re not kneeling, you’re not with us.’ And that’s not true.”