If you have watched or attended an NBA game this month, you might have noticed that players are wearing “Built By Black History” warm-up shirts before every game.
Players started wearing the shirts in 2021 as they started becoming more outspoken on social issues. While playing in “The Bubble” during the height of COVID-19 in 2020, players sat out as the unrest surrounding George Floyd’s death unfolded nationwide.
In the following months, the league and its players and coaches associations formed the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition. The group lists voting rights, policing and criminal justice as its top issues.
The group is led by NBA All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Karl-Anthony Towns.
One way the group has influenced the league is by making Election Day a time when no NBA games are played.
Many NBA players have spoken out about what Black History Month means to them.
“Unity and love. That’s the best message you can give throughout Black History Month,” said Lakers star LeBron James.“Also remembering the ones who laid the groundwork and the path to be here today, and to be able to celebrate them on a day-to-day basis … There are a lot of Black athletes I grew up admiring: Michael Jordan, Ken Griffey Jr, Penny Hardaway, Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders, Oscar Robertson, Mike Tyson, Jim Brown, and Michael Johnson to name a few.”
But players’ activism hasn’t always been celebrated. As recently as 2018, prominent pundit Laura Ingraham criticized James and All-Star Kevin Durant for speaking out on politics.
"It's always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball," she said. "Keep the political comments to yourselves, or as someone once said, ‘Shut up and dribble.’"
After Ingraham defended quarterback Drew Brees for implying those protesting Floyd’s death were “disrespecting the flag,” James responded to Ingraham.
“If you still haven’t figured out why the protesting is going on. Why we’re acting as we are is because we are simply (expletive) tired of this treatment right here! Can we break it down for you any simpler than this right here????” James said in a tweet.
Although the "Built By Black History" shirts became a standard issue in 2021, teams have worn shirts inspired by Black History Month long before 2021. In 2018,players chose shirts that inspired them.
The NBA Players Association did not respond to multiple requests for comment.