Commissioner Adam Silver said he expected NBA players to continue standing for the national anthem.
"It's my hope that our players will continue to use that as a moment of unity," Silver said Thursday after the league's board of governors meeting in Manhattan. "... Many of our players have spoken out already about their plan to stand for the anthem. And I think they understand how divisive an issue it is in our society right now."
Silver said the playing of the national anthem has always been a time for respect and reflection -- even in a league where 25 percent of the players are not American -- and recalled that many teams locked arms last season.
He wants them to continue showing unity during the anthem -- but to do it while standing, thereby adhering to league guidelines. The NBA has a rule stating that players, coaches and trainers must "stand and line up in a dignified posture" during the anthem.
"It's been a rule as long as I've been involved with the league, and my expectation is that our players will continue to stand for the anthem," he said.
Silver didn't say what would happen if any players refuse to stand, adding: "If that were to happen, we'll deal with it when it happens."
National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts also told ESPN's The Undefeated on Friday: "I don't like to play the 'what if' game. I'll just borrow Silver's language: We, too, in the event discipline is imposed, will 'deal with it.'"
Some athletes in the NFL and other sports have knelt during the anthem to protest social injustice.
"These are highly complex and nuanced issues," Silver said. "One of the core principles of this country is freedom of expression as well. It is my hope, though, that with NBA players, that given the platform that they have -- whether it's the regular engagement they have with the media, whether it's social media, whether it's other opportunities they have to work in the communities -- that they have those opportunities for their voices to be heard."
The board also talked about current events, meeting less than a week after President Donald Trump opted against inviting the Golden State Warriors to the White House after All-Star Stephen Curry said he didn't want to go.
Trump had criticized NFL players for their anthem protests in a speech the night before, and hundreds responded in games Sunday and Monday by kneeling during the anthem.
Silver says he thinks NBA players will remain engaged in a variety of ways.
"I'm hoping once again that this league can play a constructive role there," Silver said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.