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David West’s anthem protest may be barely noticeable — but it speaks volumes

The Warriors player feels there are ‘so many issues’ that need to be discussed

An always introspective David West was last in line while standing about 2 feet behind his new Golden State Warriors teammates during the playing of The Star Spangled Banner before their preseason opener Saturday.

While the rest of the Warriors players stood in line across the court, as usual, West’s actions could have been perceived as the latest athlete protest of the national anthem following San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s move. West told The Undefeated, however, that he actually has been last in line and standing just behind his teammates during the national anthem for years. It just went unnoticed as West says his personal stance is about issues “a lot deeper” than just the major one Kaepernick is raising.

“What about education? What about infant mortality? How about how we die younger and our babies die sooner?” power forward West told The Undefeated after the Warriors’ 97-93 preseason loss to the Toronto Raptors in Vancouver, British Columbia. “We die. [Black men] have the shortest life expectancy. C’mon, man. The health care system? There are so many [issues]. It’s like, whatever …

“I can’t start talking about civic issues. I can’t start talking about civility and being a citizen if m—–f—— don’t even think I’m a human being. How can you talk about progress and how humans interrelate with one another when you don’t even recognize our humanity? We got to somehow get that straight first so we’re on the same playing field. And that’s how I feel. There is just a lot of stuff, man.”

Kaepernick has either chosen not to stand or taken a knee during the playing of the national anthem before games this season in protest against what he views as injustices against black Americans at the hands of police. His actions have sparked protest, debate and controversy nationwide. Countless athletes supporting Kaepernick’s cause have staged their own protests in high school and college sports, the WNBA and on other NFL teams. While there has been both a fair share of support for and criticism against Kaepernick’s method, his stance gained increased notoriety amid recent fatal police shootings of black men in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Charlotte, North Carolina; and El Cajon, California.

While West respects Kaepernick’s stance, he lacks optimism about its lasting impact.

“What he is doing is great, but I think it’s going to pass, too,” West said. “I’m not as optimistic about everything as everyone always seems to be. I don’t wear it on my sleeve like I used to. I’ve gotten older and a little bit more mature in terms of my thinking. But I understand human rights issues.

“Until you handle humanity, how do you get to talking about mass incarceration? How do you get to talk about our undereducated kids? How do we get to the health care system? How do we get to all that and you don’t even think I’m a human?”

On Saturday, NBA players had the first opportunity to show if they would follow Kaepernick’s lead or not during the start of preseason action that began with the Warriors versus the Raptors’ late matinée.

The Raptors players linked arms during both the American and Canadian national anthems in response to Kaepernick’s actions. The racially diverse team wanted to quietly preach unity with their actions.

“It’s phenomenal. I’m superproud,” Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri told The Undefeated. “The whole dialogue that we’ve had, ongoing conversations, our leaders stepped up. Everybody was engaged. You could see it. To me, that’s what the world should be about, coming together and looking out for other people.

“Some of our guys have nothing to do with what’s going on [in American society]. We’re almost a global team. But you can see how engaged everyone was. I’m superproud of them. It’s great.”

As for West, his step-back move during the national anthem was so inconspicuous that Warriors coach Steve Kerr and forward Draymond Green said they didn’t even notice. West said former New Orleans Hornets teammate Chris Paul noticed his actions when they played together and tried to no avail to get him to stand in line with everyone else.

West is a self-proclaimed black history enthusiast, an avid reader, loves such philosophers as Plato and Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. He attended military school in his youth and adores deep nonsports discussions. The two-time NBA All-Star said he has been standing 2 feet behind his teammates during the national anthem for so long that he forgot how long he had been doing it.

West told The Undefeated on Monday that “protest is an individual thing. It’s based on your own personal conviction.” He added after the preseason opener that he also has been concentrating more on community action, making trips to juvenile detention centers to talk to kids and taking trips to Africa on his own dime instead of with the NBA.

“My work speaks for itself,” West, 36, told The Undefeated. “I’m a part of grassroots organizations. I’m about getting outside of this celebrity. Letting people get a real perspective. It’s not just about the corrupt police inside what is supposed to be a serve and protect system. That’s only a small piece of it.”

Several Warriors players said they supported Kaepernick’s protest during media day last Monday in large part due to frustration over a lack of focus toward police killing unarmed black men. The Warriors actually met as a team Saturday morning and decided that action off the court was more important than action during the national anthem. Outside of West’s step back, no other Warriors player did anything out of the ordinary during the national anthem.

“At this point, all the gestures have been done and all the conversations have started,” Green told The Undefeated. “It’s all about moving forward now. To me, it’s not about coming out and making a gesture or people who know I support change.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.