NBA commentator Kenny Smith says he's proud players are 'bringing awareness to issues' by kneeling

"This is a way to participate and bring awareness to it and I’m proud of the players for doing that," the two-time NBA champ said.
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/ Source: TODAY

Social justice was front and center when the NBA restarted its season Thursday night with a pair of games in Orlando.

Players, coaches and referees knelt during the national anthem prior to the New Orleans Pelicans-Utah Jazz game and again before the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers tipped off.

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On the 3rd hour of TODAY Friday, NBA commentator Kenny Smith said he was "proud" that the players were using their platforms to bring attention to "this new awareness."

“I think the players are doing a great job of still bringing awareness to issues because a lot of them, they can’t initiate them,” Smith told TODAY's Craig Melvin and Sheinelle Jones.

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“You know, they’re not the Charlamagne tha Gods, the Angela Ryes of the world. They’re kind of in the political space of talking,” Smith said, referring to two influential Black media figures and commentators.

"But (the players) could participate, and this is a way to participate and bring awareness to it, and I’m proud of the players for doing that.”

Smith, who played 10 years in the NBA and won two championships with the Houston Rockets, said the players are in a position to continue the discussion about race that has grown louder in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

At Thursday's games, players wore shirts with messages supporting Black rights, including "Say Their Names" and "Equality," while the court was emblazoned with the words “Black Lives Matter."

Meanwhile, Smith's TNT colleague, Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, raised eyebrows on social media Thursday night when he said players who don’t kneel shouldn't be criticized.

“The national anthem means different things to different people. I'm glad these guys are all unified, but if people don't kneel, they're not a bad person. I want to make that perfectly clear,” Barkley said.

"I’m glad they have unity, but if we have a guy who doesn’t want to kneel because the anthem means something to him, he should not be vilified.”