Butler waits for NBA approval on statement-making jersey

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The Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler (22) drives against the Milwaukee Bucks’ Wesley Matthews (9) during a March 2020 game in Miami.
CHARLES TRAINOR JR./MIAMI HERALD / TNS

BY ANTHONY CHIANG
MIAMI HERALD / TNS

When the NBA season resumes at Walt Disney World, Jimmy Butler will be one of the few players without a social justice message on the back of his jersey. And the Miami Heat All Star is hoping he won’t have to wear his last name on his jersey either.

Just the No. 22.

“I hope that my last name doesn’t go on there, as well, just because I love and respect all the messages that the league did choose,” Butler said on a video conference call with reporters following Tuesday’s practice, which marked his first comments to the South Florida media since the season was suspended on March 11.

‘Who I was’

“But for me, I felt like with no message, with no name, it’s going back to who I was. If I wasn’t who I was today, I’m no different than anybody else of color. I want that to be my message in the sense that just because I’m an NBA player, everybody has the same right no matter what.”

Butler is still waiting for NBA approval to play without his last name on his jersey, adding that, “I’m hoping I get that opportunity, though. I really am.”

The league decided to allow players to replace their names on the back of their jerseys with social justice messages.

The messages

The list of the 29 approved messages that were agreed on by the National Basketball Players Association and the NBA and then made available for players to choose from includes: Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can’t Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.

Among the other NBA players participating in the restart who declined to wear a social justice message on their jerseys are Anthony Davis and LeBron James from the Los Angeles Lakers, and Joel Embiid and Al Horford from the Philadelphia 76ers. NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said to ESPN’s The Undefeated that, as of last week, 285 of the expected 350 eligible players chose to include a social justice message on their jerseys, with 17 opting against it.

All about the action

“I’m with Black Lives Matter and all the phrases that they chose to put on the back of the jersey,” Butler said. “But for me, it’s a lot more about action and continuing to learn and teach the people around me and doing what I can in my community.”

Butler is the only Heat player who will not wear a social justice message on his jersey for the restart.

The Heat released each player’s selection Tuesday night: Bam Adebayo (Black Lives Matter), Kyle Alexander (Peace), Jae Crowder (Black Lives Matter), Goran Dragic (Equality), Udonis Haslem (Black Lives Matter), Tyler Herro (Black Lives Matter), Solomon Hill (Education), Andre Iguodala (Group Economics), Derrick Jones Jr. (Love Us), Meyers Leonard (Equality), Kendrick Nunn (Black Lives Matter), KZ Okpala (I Can’t Breathe), Kelly Olynyk (Equality), Duncan Robinson (Say Their Names), Chris Silva (Si Se Puede) and Gabe Vincent (Black Lives Matter).

The social justice messages will be displayed above the number during the first four days of the season restart, according to ESPN. For those who decide not to include one of the approved messages on their jersey, the player’s last name would appear in that space.

If a player chooses to continue wearing a message past the first four days, his name would go below the number.

A hard decision

Did Butler consider opting out of the NBA restart and not joining the Heat in Central Florida?

“Without a doubt, yes,” said Butler, who spent most of the league shutdown at his home in the San Diego area. “But I think that a lot of decisions went into that. Being away from your family is hard. What’s going on in the world right now, it’s hard.

“But being here is also hard. It’s not easy for anybody. … I can tell you that everybody here is with the equality because it’s real and it needs to happen. There just has to be more action behind it. I think a lot of people are talking, but we definitely got to put more action behind it.”

The season is set to resume July 30 and end in October at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, with the Heat beginning its three-game scrimmage schedule July 22 against the Sacramento Kings.

Butler, 30, is averaging teamhighs in points (20.2), assists (6.1) and steals (1.7) in his first season with the Heat.

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