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LeBron rises as NBA returns

NBA teams bowed their heads and knelt during the playing of the US national anthem while wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts last night as the league returned for the first time since the Covid pandemic halted play in March with two thrilling games.

Coaches and game officials joined players from the Utah Jazz, New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers in taking a knee to protest against racial injustice and police brutality in the first games in 140 days.

‘Black Lives Matter’ was also written on the courts at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, where the NBA plans to finish its season with 22 teams inside a bio-secure bubble. “The game of basketball has always been bigger than just the ball, the rim, 10 guys on the floor and referees,” LeBron James said after hitting the game-winning shot in his team’s 103-101 win over the Clippers.

He said that while there has been progress in the fight against systemic racism, the key was to maintain the momentum.

Some players had messages like “Equality”, “Education Reform” and “Say Their Names” on the backs of their jerseys in place of their names. Athletes from around the world have united behind anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.

In the first game, the Jazz came from behind to defeat the Pelicans 106-104 after the Pelicans’ Brandon Ingram’s three-pointer at the buzzer rimmed out. The games are being played without fans, but “virtual fans” appeared on LED screens wrapped around the court and a simulation of a crowd’s cheers and jeers could be heard.