Jonathan Isaac stands alone during NBA national anthem, cites religious reasons

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Jonathan Isaac, of the Orlando Magic, was the lone NBA player who stood during the national anthem before the team played the Brooklyn Nets on Friday afternoon. All other players and coaches knelt.

Isaac, who was claimed by the Magic in the first round of the league’s 2017 draft, was also the only player not wearing a shirt that shows “Black Lives Matter.”

The 22-year-old Florida State University graduate said he doesn’t believe kneeling or wearing a T-shirt “go hand in hand with supporting Black lives.”

He said he does believe Black lives matter.

In an interview, Isaac answered questions about his decisions with a focus on religion.

“I believe that my life has been supported through the Gospel, Jesus Christ, and that everyone is made in the image of God,” he said. “Each and every one of us each and every day do things that we shouldn’t do. We say things that we shouldn’t say. We hate and we dislike people we shouldn’t hate and dislike. Sometimes, it gets to a point where we point fingers about whose evil is worse. And sometimes that comes out with whose evil is most visible.”

Isaac, an ordained minister, said he wanted to take a stand and remind people that “the Gospel of Jesus Christ says there’s grace for of us.”

He said a relationship with God allows people to get past skin color.

“When you look around, racism isn’t the only thing that plagues our society, that plagues our nation, that plagues our world,” he said. “Coming together on that message -- that we want to get past not only racism but everything that plagues us as a society, I feel like the answer to it is the Gospel.”

When asked about the correlation between religion and kneeling during the anthem to protest police brutality, Isaac repeated his earlier statements.

“I don’t really see it as religion for myself. I see it as a relationship with God,” Isaac said. “I don’t think that kneeling or putting on a t-shirt, for me personally, is the answer. For me, Black lives are supported through the Gospel. All lives are supported through the Gospel.”

The NBA has had a rule since the early 1980s saying players must stand for the anthem, but NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday night that he was relaxing that policy in these times where a desire for equality and social justice is at the forefront of many conversations in this country.

The teams that played Thursday, the opening night of the restarted season, all knelt for the anthem.

Isaac received the Magic’s community service award last year. He has donated money to feed children affected by the coronavirus pandemic, led a Hurricane Dorian relief effort and has raised money to help organizations promote literacy for children in central Florida.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.