Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, a vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, chose not to kneel during the national anthem Friday before San Antonio’s game against the Sacramento Kings, hours after Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac became the first player to do so since the league’s restart.

The vast majority of NBA players, coaches and referees have taken a knee during the national anthem since the league returned Thursday from a four-month hiatus forced by the novel coronavirus pandemic, with games held in a bubblelike environment at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla. Players and coaches also have worn Black Lives Matter T-shirts during warmups, and players have been allowed to replace the names on their jerseys with social justice messages.

But Popovich, as well as Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, stood while their players knelt during the anthem Friday, though both coaches wore Black Lives Matter shirts.

“I’d prefer to keep that to myself,” Popovich told reporters when asked about his choice. “Everybody has to make a personal decision. The league’s been great about that. Everybody has the freedom to react any way they want. For whatever reasons I have, I reacted the way I wanted to.”

In June, Popovich spoke out following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, calling the incident a “lynching” and saying, “I’m just embarrassed as a White person to know that that can happen.” Those comments came shortly after he called President Trump “a deranged idiot” for his response to the social unrest following Floyd’s death.

Speaking to the Sacramento Bee before Friday’s game, he emphasized the NBA’s role in amplifying the Black Lives Matter message.

“Considering what’s going on in our country with race, it’s always been our national sin and it’s always been something that has never been faced as well as it should have been,” said Popovich, who coaches the U.S. men’s national team and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy. “With the events that we’ve all witnessed in this last year, it’s just logical and wise to keep that momentum going and try to keep this on the front burner because it is a national embarrassment.

“It keeps us from being the country that we should be or the country that was promised to everyone, and nothing could be more poignant than to have all of the teams here, all committed to making statements and letting it be known that this has got to change, and not just a little bit.”

Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan, who led San Antonio with 27 points and 10 assists in the 129-120 win over Sacramento, defended Popovich and Hammon while addressing the media postgame.

“I have no thoughts and believe in them that it is all out of genuine, out of a positive side of their heart — the same way we kneel,” DeRozan said. “Don’t take away nothing from those guys. Pop speaks out. When it comes to Becky, she’s been front-line fighting for equality since I’ve been a fan of hers playing in the WNBA. So everybody have their own right of making a statement, and you can’t vilify nobody for not doing what the other group is doing. So I’m all for it.”

Earlier Friday, Isaac chose to stand and declined to wear a Black Lives Matter shirt during the playing of the anthem before Orlando’s 128-118 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

“I believe that Black lives matter,” said Isaac, who recorded 16 points and six rebounds in 16 minutes. “A lot went into my decision, and part of it is, first off, I thought that kneeling while wearing the Black Lives Matter T-shirt don’t go hand-in-hand with supporting Black lives. So I felt like, just me personally, what it is that I believe is taking on a stance that I do believe that Black lives matter, but I just felt like it was a decision that I had to make.”

Speaking about Isaac’s position, Magic Coach Steve Clifford said that “if guys are not comfortable kneeling and they want to stand, then nobody has a problem with that.”

“I support him,” Clifford said. “His teammates support him. The organization supports him. So that’s part of living in our country.”

On Saturday, Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard became the second player to stand during the anthem, explaining that he made the decision in part to honor his brother, Bailey, who served two tours in Afghanistan with the Marines.

“Some of the conversations I’ve had over the past three days, quite literally, have been the most difficult,” Leonard told the Associated Press before the game. “I am with the Black Lives Matter movement and I love and support the military and my brother and the people who have fought to defend our rights in this country.”

“I am a compassionate human being and I truly love all people,” he added. “I can’t fully comprehend how our world, literally and figuratively, has turned into Black and White. There’s a line in the sand, so to speak: ‘If you’re not kneeling, you’re not with us.’ And that’s not true.”

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