Scoring 125-105, the Miami Heat beat the Denver Nuggets in the bubble on Saturday, but the biggest news item of the session in Orlando happened before the game.
With a jersey without a name on the back, Heat star Jimmy Butler attempted to wear one, and the officials in charge of the game didn’t allow the contest to start until Butler changed jerseys to one with “Butler” on the back.
Butler was compliant when asked by officials to swap his name-less No. 22 jersey with one that had his name on it. But after the game he spoke about what happened, saying he didn’t understand why the league won’t allow him to honor victims of police brutality and other Black causes by removing his own name from his jersey — it had previously been reported that Butler planned on doing this. Speaking to reporters, Butler expressed disappointment about the moment, saying “I don’t care” about the explanation the league gives for its rules.
Butler isn’t the only NBA player who wanted to go nameless in the bubble in lieu of a social justice slogan. At least one member of the Boston Celtics wanted to follow that same route according to ESPN’s broadcast on Friday night, and Jaylen Brown has expressed disappointment that the slogans were limited back in July. But the NBA has been adamant that players either use their given name or choose from a list of pre-selected phrases like “Education Reform” or “Equality.”
The league’s efforts to raise awareness of Black issues — including the use of the phrase “Black Lives Matter” on the bubble courts — make it one of the most progressive among the major sports when it comes to siding with and encouraging activism among its players. But this jersey issue doesn’t appear likely to go Butler’s way, and the league seems to have made it clear to officials that its rules must be followed regardless of the noble intent of Butler or anyone else in the Bubble.