CLEVELAND -- There was no overt demonstration before or during the national anthem when the NBA opened its 72nd season Tuesday with a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics at the Cavs' Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs interlocked their arms, as they did during the preseason, and the Celtics stood as a team, shoulder to shoulder, with several players and coaches holding their hand over their heart while retired Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Generald Wilson belted out the anthem.
However, when the lights came back up at Quicken Loans Arena, Cavs star LeBron James let his feet make his statement for him.
James’ sneakers -- the LeBron 15 Equality PE -- were all black except for the word “EQUALITY” stitched in gold across each of the heels.
With all the attention being paid to the peaceful protests during the anthem in the NFL, James decided this summer that he wanted to do something on opening night to raise awareness himself.
“I just wanted to keep the conversation going, keep the conversation going,” James told ESPN after the Cavs’ 102-99 win. “We know what we’re going through. We know what we went through as a nation, as a world [recently]. So I had an opportunity to use a platform for the greater good and keep the conversation going. Why not?”
Nike, with which James is signed to a lifetime sponsorship deal, launched its EQUALITY campaign in February with the mission to use its athletes’ “voice and the power of sport to inspire people to take action in their communities.”
James’ sneakers from Tuesday night will not be sold, multiple Nike sources told ESPN (the PE in LeBron 15 Equality PE stands for “player exclusive”). However, as part of the EQUALITY initiative, Nike announced it will donate $5 million in 2017 to various organizations (MENTOR and PeacePlayers International, for example) that advance equality in communities across the country.
In the same spirit, the Cavaliers showed a video entitled “Unity” prior to tipoff. The video featured James, various Cavs players and coaches, Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, Olympic champion Simone Biles, Dr. Guion "Guy" Bluford (the first African-American to travel in space) and Cleveland community leaders, who celebrated the even playing field that sports brings to society and repeated the tagline, “We are in this together.”