- Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.
Miami Heat All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler had to change jerseys before the start of Saturday’s seeding game against the Denver Nuggets because he originally came to the floor with a jersey that had no name on its back.
An official blew a whistle, and Butler walked back to the Heat bench so he could switch into a jersey that had his last name on the back and the game could begin. Butler said he was never given an official explanation from the league as to why he could not keep the back of his jersey nameplate empty.
“I don’t know,” Butler said on a video conference call following a 125-105 win over the Denver Nuggets. “I don’t care. I didn’t have a name on the back at the start, but I decided to change because my teammates probably needed me a little bit today.”
When Butler and the Heat initially traveled into the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida, last month, he was asked what league-approved social justice message he would wear on the back of his jersey, and he explained that he would like to keep his nameplate empty. “I have decided not to [wear a message],” Butler said during a video call with reporters at the time. “With that being said, I hope that my last name doesn’t go on there as well. Just because I love and respect all the messages that the league did choose, but for me, I felt like with no message, with no name, it’s going back to, like, who I was. And if I wasn’t who I was today, I’m no different than anybody else of color and want that to be my message in the sense that just because I’m an NBA player, everybody has the same right, no matter what, and that’s how I feel about my people of color.”
Despite the fact he was forced to change jerseys, Butler, who finished with 22 points, seven assists and four rebounds, said that he was confident he was able to get his original point across.
“Without a doubt,” Butler said. “Without a doubt. And to tell you the truth, it’s still to be determined for the next game as well.”
At that point, Butler was asked if he planned to wear a jersey with an empty nameplate before every game in the bubble.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I really don’t. I hope so. I hope they just let me play with no name on the back of my jersey, but like I said, to be determined.”
Before Saturday’s game, Butler said he appreciated the public way in which players and coaches were coming together in the opening games to shine light on social justice issues.
“In a sense that we get to feel how we want to feel, and we get to express it in our way,” Butler said during a post-practice video call on Friday. “The way that the league, the players, the coaches, are kneeling in unity, and if you decide to stand in unity, it’s what needs to be done. Because the greater good, and the goal that we’re trying to get across, it will be reached. And I’m happy to see everybody in on it.”
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