After the NBA reached an agreement with its players union to allow social justice messages on jerseys, fans have wondered whether the league’s biggest stars will display them when games resume later this month.
Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks, has received public backing to do so from a co-owner of the team.
In a newly released interview, taped on June 29, hedge fund CEO and Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry said he stands “in full support” of players who opt to put protest messages on their jerseys, calling it an “individual choice,” and one that “would be nice” to see the entire team take up in unison.
“I'm a big believer in your freedom of expression; your ability to say what you think,” Lasry says. “If any of the players believe in something and want to express that, they should.”
“I’m in full support,” adds Lasry, who has co-owned the Bucks since 2014, when he bought the team along with investor Wes Eden for $550 million.
Last Friday, the NBA and its player’s union agreed to a list of phrases that players could display on their jerseys, including “Black Lives Matter,” “Say Their Names,” “Vote,” and “Anti-Racist.” The messages will appear on the back of players’ jerseys above their number.
Several players have announced they’ll wear messages, including Bucks guard Pat Connaughton, who will display the word “equality.”
In the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, many NBA players joined protests advocating for police reform and racial equality. In early June, union representatives from the league’s teams voted unanimously to approve a restart of the season, but concerns about its potential impact on players’ participation in protests later emerged from a set of players led by Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving.
Lasry said the decision of whether to display a social justice message will be an “individual choice” but he hopes the team will consider a collective approach.
“It would be nice if as a team everybody wanted try to bring about a specific message,” he says. “But I think that'll be figured out over the course when everybody gets down to Orlando.”
Twenty-five years ago, Lasry co-founded hedge fund Avenue Capital with his sister Sonia Gardner, who serves as the firm’s president and managing partner. In 2018, four years after Lasry purchased his stake in the Bucks, the value of his share in the team had doubled.
Lasry, who participated in a racial justice protest last month in Milwaukee alongside Bucks players, said for several years he and his family have made advocacy for social change a part of their role.
“We've gotten very, very involved in trying to bring about change and social justice in Milwaukee and around the country,” he says.
He said the widespread support of recent Black Lives Matter protests has surprised him.
“That's actually great that I think you've seen a real shift in how people now view this, and that people actually want to bring about change,” he says.