LeBron James donned an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt in pregame warmups for the Cleveland Cavaliers game against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night.
The phrase refers to the repeated pleas of Eric Garner, a Staten Island “loosie” cigarette salesman killed in a rough encounter with New York City police. The city, which levies a $1.60 tax on cigarette packs atop the $4.35 imposed by the Empire State, increasingly employs law enforcement to crack down on entrepreneurs who provide cheap cigarettes to consumers without providing revenues to the Big Apple’s government. A grand jury refused to charge a policeman who put Garner in what looked like a rear-naked choke. “I’m minding my business,” the husband and father of six told the cops shortly before his death. “Please just leave me alone.”
Kevin Garnett, Kyrie Irving, and other players joined James in wearing the “I Can’t Breathe” shirts. Bulls guard Derrick Rose, as well as several NFL players, sported similar messages over the weekend.
To add to Monday night’s drama, Prince William and Duchess Kate watched King James play. Cleveland won the game 110-88.
“It was a message to the family,” James reasoned after the victory. “That I’m sorry for their loss, sorry to his wife. That’s what it’s about. I think everybody else gets caught up in everything else besides who’s really feeling it, and that’s the family. That’s what it’s about.”
The NBA requires players to wear Adidas gear. But the league won’t fine James and the other competitors for wearing the non-Adidas shirts. Commissioner Adam Silver, who attended Monday night’s game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, nevertheless expressed, “My preference would be for players to abide by our on-court attire rules.”