NBA: All eyes on hardwood for possible anthem protests

(Reuters) - The start of a new NBA season always commands attention, given a thirst for gravity-defying dunks and sweet shooters, but this year many may tune in simply to see if players will defy rules and kneel during the national anthem.

The gesture has become common across the National Football League and is intended to call attention to what protesting players see as a pattern of racism in the treatment of African-Americans by U.S. police.

SEE ALSO: Colin Kaepernick’s collusion grievance a ‘mistake': legal expert

But it has been exacerbated after U.S. President Donald Trump said last month that players who did not stand during the anthem should be fired, prompting many NFL players to kneel and lock arms in solidarity.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said he expects players to stand during the U.S. national anthem, which has long been a league rule. The NBA also sent out a memo warning players of potential punishment if they didn't stand for the anthem.

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NBA, WNBA team demonstrations during the national anthem
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NBA, WNBA team demonstrations during the national anthem
Oct 4, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; The Atlanta Hawks lock arms during the national anthem before the game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 10, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets players stand with arms locked during the National Anthem before the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2017; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) locks arms with teammates during the national anthem before a game against the Brooklyn Nets at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
UNIONDALE, NY - OCTOBER 11: The Philadelphia 76ers stand for the National Anthem during their Pre Season game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on October 11, 2017 in Uniondale, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 10: A close up shot of the Los Angeles Lakers standing for the National Anthem before a preseason game against the Utah Jazz on October 10, 2017 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 6: The Utah Jazz honor the National Anthem before the game against the Phoenix Suns on October 6, 2017 at vivint.SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 30: (left to right) Andrew Bogut, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brook Lopez and Stephen Zimmerman of Los Angeles Lakers lock arms during the national anthem before the start of the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on September 30, 2017 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 18: The Phoenix Mercury and the Washington Mystics stand for a moment of silence for the National Anthem before the game on August 18, 2017 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 16: The Minnesota Lynx and the Seattle Storm stand for a moment of silence for the National Anthem before the game on August 16, 2017 at Key Arena in Seattle, Washington. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: The Phoenix Mercury stand and kneel for the national anthem before the game against the New York Liberty during Round Two of the 2016 WNBA Playoffs on September 24, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 21: The Indiana Fever kneel during the national anthem before the game against the Phoenix Mercury during Round One of the 2016 WNBA Playoffs on September 21, 2016 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 10: DeMar DeRozan #10, K.J. MacDaniels #32 and Malcolm Miller #13 of the Toronto Raptors interlock arms during the singing of the national anthems prior to the first half of an NBA preseason game against the Detroit Pistons at Air Canada Centre on October 10, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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No NBA players have tested the mandate but several teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks, have stood together and locked arms during the national anthem ahead of their preseason games.

The reigning champion Golden State Warriors have been the most vocal team in the NBA in advocating for racial equality and condemning the rhetoric of Trump and are viewed by many as a favorite to show some form of protest.

But the Warriors decided against any kind of display during the preseason and do not sound like they will change their position when they open the 2017-18 season on Tuesday.

"We said what we had to say," said Warriors forward Draymond Green. "Everyone knows where we stand. We don't need to do anything else to show where we stand."

The NBA has long been considered the most progressive of the four main North American professional sports leagues and players have already been outspoken about the gesture, which has become increasingly common since Colin Kaepernick started it last year as a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, a four-times NBA Most Valuable Player, said he commends fellow athletes who are trying to make a difference by getting down on one knee but that he does not plan on doing the same.

"For me personally, my voice is more important than my knee," said James. "I talk (to media) every single day, what I say I think it should hit home for a lot of people. I don't believe I have to get on my knee to even further what I'm talking about."

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