Raptors and Lakers kneel during playing of both Canadian and U.S. anthems

During the singing of the American and Canadian national anthems the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers took a knee to protest social injustices.

From their first drive through Florida to the NBA’s Orlando bubble, their team bus emblazoned with the words Black Lives Matter, the Toronto Raptors made it clear their NBA title defence would be about more than basketball.

On Saturday night against the Los Angeles Lakers in their first official game of the restart, they ensured that would continue.

During the playing of both “O Canada” and “The Star Spangled Banner,” members of the Raptors took a knee to protest racial injustice.

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse told reporters yesterday that his team would treat the two anthems as “one long song,” noting that Canada has issues with police brutality and systemic racism it needs to work on also.

“This isn’t about countries, this isn’t about the borders, to me it’s about continuing to shine the light on that we need to do better in [the] police brutality area, we need to do better in the systemic racism area,” Nurse said. “That’s not just Canada, America, that’s a lot of places, so we treat that as one long song tomorrow.”

The focus of this restarted NBA season, interrupted for more than four-and-a-half months by the novel coronavirus pandemic, has been ensuring the need for racial justice and an end to police brutality does not fade from the headlines — even, and especially, as games resume. NBA teams are kneeling, often while linking arms, for pre-recorded renditions of the national anthem along a sideline where “Black Lives Matter” is painted.

But this marked the first opportunity the Raptors had to make their message clear, and they did, both during the anthem and before they even entered the building.

Members of the Raptors — including team president Masai Ujiri — arrived at Saturday’s game wearing shirts that read Say Their Names, I Am Human and Black Lives Matter.

“I think basketball could be a distraction but we’re all firm that we want to use it as a vehicle to spread awareness and continue to just give a positive message to everyone out there,” Pascal Siakam said recently. “So, like we said, there are bigger issues in the world right now. And obviously we need basketball, and basketball is something that’s really vital for us and for everyone.

“But at the same time we just can’t forget about the task at hand and the things that are way more important than basketball and the things that are way more important than us.”

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