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NBA won’t fine LeBron James, Derrick Rose and others for ‘I can’t breathe’ protests

LeBron James got his “I can’t breathe” shirt.  (Kathy Willens / AP)

With pro athletes lending their lofty voices to the protests over grand jury decisions in the Ferguson and Eric Garner cases in a highly visible way, another league has promised there will be no repercussions for social activism.

The NBA will not fine players for wearing T-shirts that say “I can’t breathe,” the final words of Garner, who died after police placed him in a chokehold last summer. The league is following the NFL, which will take no punitive action against players for their “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture.

LeBron James was the latest to sport an “I can’t breathe” shirt Monday night before the Cleveland Cavaliers’ game.

“It’s not a Cavs thing,” James said (via ESPN). “It’s a worldly thing.”

Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose wore an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt on Saturday during warm-ups before Chicago’s game and, on Monday night, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams, Jarrett Jack and Alan Anderson joined James, wearing the shirts before the Cavs-Nets game in Brooklyn. Outside the Barclays Center, about 200 protesters marched and chanted “I Can’t Breathe!” and “No justice! No peace! No racist police!”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver walked the fine line between players’ wishes and corporate responsibility, with players required to wear attire made by Adidas, the league’s official provider.

“I respect Derrick Rose and all of our players for voicing their personal views on important issues but my preference would be for players to abide by our on-court attire rules,” Silver said. Later, ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap confirmed that there would be no fines.

“You hear the slogan ‘NBA cares’ and it’s more evident than now to show some support,” Garnett said. “Obviously we’re not on the front line of this movement, but I think it’s important being from these communities and supporting these communities.”

For Bryant as well, the protest was personal.

“I think everybody else gets caught up in everything else besides who’s really feeling it, and that’s the family. That’s what it’s about.”