LeBron James interlocked arms with Anthony Davis and Quinn Cook as the Lakers and Clippers kneeled during the national anthem before their bubble opener at Walt Disney World on Thursday.
As James took a knee, he thought of someone else who jeopardized his career by engaging in the same type of protest.
"I hope we made Kaep' proud," James said of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was widely criticized for kneeling during the national anthem in 2016. "I hope we continue to make Kaep' proud. Every single day, I hope I make him proud in how I live my life, not only on the basketball floor, but off the floor."
After the Lakers' 103-101 win, James pointed out that Kaepernick's peaceful protest against racism and police brutality was misunderstood at the time. After the 2016 season, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers and then didn't get signed by another team.
"You go back and look at any of his postgame interviews when he talked about why he was kneeling, it had absolutely nothing to do about the flag, had absolutely nothing to do about the soldiers, the men and women that keep our land free," James said. "He explained that and the ears were uncomfortable. People never listened. They refused to listen. And I did. And a lot of my people in the Black community did listen. And we just thank him for sacrificing everything that he did to put us in a [situation where] today, even years later, to be able to have that moment like we did tonight."
James' thinking on kneeling during the national anthem has evolved since the 2017-2018 season, when he said at Cleveland Cavaliers' media day that he wasn't going to take part in that protest, adding that he was going to let his voice and work in the community speak for itself.
"I don't think that I have to show you guys more by getting on a knee," James told reporters in 2017.
James sees things differently now.
"I just don’t think at that point in time I wasn’t fully educated," James said. "Strengthening the mind, reading, listening, getting as educated as I can be on any situation, on anything that’s going on. I’ve been always who I am. And until I’m fully educated and I’m fully aware of what’s going on, then I call for action. I feel like at that time, I wasn’t fully educated on the purpose, what is the purpose at hand. And honestly, Kaep' has taught me a lot about that."
James said he knows that some people will be offended by his actions.
When asked what he'd say to those people, he shrugged.
"You really don’t have a response because no matter what you do in life, there’s always going to be people who won’t agree with whatever you do," James said. "You can go to a fast food restaurant and you can go through the drive-through and people will say, ‘Why didn’t you walk in and get your food?’ You could wear black and people are gonna say, ‘Why didn’t you wear white?’ So no matter what you do in life, you’re always going to have people who are going to try to pick apart whatever you do.
"But if you’re passionate and you’re true and you’re authentic to whatever your cause is, then it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. And for me, you guys should know me, I could care less about the naysayers. I’ve been hearing it for too long. And I’ve been done about caring about that."