LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — LeBron James arrived for the Los Angeles Lakers‘ 116-108 win over the Utah Jazz on Monday — a game that clinched the franchise’s first No. 1 seed in the Western Conference in a decade — in a black T-shirt meant to address a message bigger than basketball.
On the front, in white screen print, there was a stopwatch showing the time 8:46 on its face, with “Minneapolis” printed below it. On the back there were several stopwatches — all frozen on 8:46 — with various city names below them, including New York, Houston, Tokyo and Paris. Below the stopwatches there was a message: “The World is Watching This Time.”
James donned the T-shirt hours after body camera video surfaced of George Floyd’s arrest on May 25, before he was killed while in custody of the Minneapolis police.
Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died after officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, kneeled on his neck while Floyd repeatedly expressed his inability to breathe. It was initially reported that the amount of time Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck was 8 minutes, 46 seconds, but prosecutors have since said the time was 7:46.
James said he had not watched the nearly 10 minutes of body camera footage that was published Monday by the Daily Mail — in which Floyd has a gun pointed at him just six seconds after officers approach and knock on the window of his vehicle while the ignition is off and his hands are up — but he intends to.
James’ shirt was designed by Sloan and Bennett and commissioned by Klutch Sports, the agency that represents James. Sloan and Bennett is a Black-owned business founded by James Patrick Christopher, a former professional basketball player overseas and in the G League who is from Compton, California.
“You think about 8 minutes and 46 seconds, an officer having his knee on someone’s throat for that long. Video or no video, it doesn’t matter,” James said. “No one deserved to lose their life when it could have been prevented from what I’ve seen and from what the world has seen. So that’s what the T-shirt is all about: The world is watching. Everyone knows the time. Everyone knows what’s going on.”
The Lakers’ star, coming off his strongest game in Orlando, Florida, with 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting, 9 assists and 8 rebounds, said he was reminded of Floyd when the Lakers kneeled for both the U.S. national anthem and the Canadian national anthem before playing the Toronto Raptors over the weekend.
“I think it was a little bit over four minutes,” James said, echoing a sentiment recently shared by the Raptors’ Kyle Lowry and LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “And we actually as a unit, as a team, had to switch our knees over from one knee to the other knee because they started to get sore. They started to kind of start hurting a little bit. And that’s just a little over four minutes.”
Having been at the NBA’s Walt Disney World Resort campus with the Lakers for nearly four weeks on one of 22 teams invited to the league’s restart to finish a season that was interrupted for nearly four-and-a-half months because of the coronavirus, James said it is clear that coming to Orlando has aided in his and his peers’ pursuit of social change.
“There were so many conversations before we got here that this right here, the bubble, us playing basketball would take away from the main thing,” James said. “I think it’s been the absolute opposite of that. It’s given us the opportunity to every single day speak about, feel passionate about whatever is going on in your personal life, whatever is going on in society, us trying to make a change. Being dynamic. Being heard. And using this platform, which is the NBA, the most popular game in the world.
“And we’ve had that support. We’ve had that support from the league. We’ve had that support from the Union. And every player, either if he spoke out or not, has felt like they felt empowered, so if they feel like they want to say something or they feel like they want to hit on a topic, they don’t have to feel pressure. They don’t have to feel like they won’t be heard, like they won’t be supported. And that’s been a great thing to see: that we’ve been able to, as a league and as every individual, been able to voice our truth.”
James devoted more than half of his postgame media session — four of the six questions he fielded — to social justice. When the game came up, he responded with as much earnestness.
For James, who considers himself a student of basketball history, it was a significant night. The Lakers became the first team to clinch a No. 1 seed after a five-year playoff drought. L.A. will play its first playoff game since 2013 later this month, when James will embark on the fifth postseason of his career while playing for a No. 1 seed. The past two times, his team won it all.
But as much as James’ free agency decision to join the Lakers in 2018 changed L.A.’s fortunes, it was the trade for Anthony Davis a year later that put the team back in the championship conversation.
Davis, coming off a season-low seven shot attempts in a loss to Toronto over the weekend, led the Lakers with 42 points on 13-for-28 shooting against Toronto.
“When you’re a great player, you learn from one game,” James said of Davis. “You adjust. And then you turn it into something different the next game, and he absolutely did that tonight.”
Davis’ performance included a 24-point second half, marking the 20th time this season that he has scored 20 or more in half and making him the only Laker besides Kobe Bryant with 20 20-plus-point halves in a season in the past 10 years.
“It means a lot to be in a category with him. I just got chills,” Davis told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols when informed of the feat during an on-court postgame interview. “It’s tough always just talking about him, but to be in a category with him, it means a lot. And I know he’s looking down on us and cheering us on, so we want to do it for him. Like I said, it’s an honor to be even mentioned with his name.”
Bryant led the Lakers the last time they were the No. 1 seed in the West, taking them to the title from that spot in 2010.
“It’s been a long time coming for Laker Nation,” Davis said. “We’re trying to be the best version of the team that we can be. … It’s a good feeling. Obviously, we’re not done, still we’ve got a long way to go, but it’s a good accomplishment for our organization.”