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Benedetto blog: More than hoops to watch on NBA's opening night

By: VINNY BENEDETO
October 7, 2017 Updated: October 8, 2017 at 11:41 pm
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photo - FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2014 file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James wears a T-shirt reading "I Can't Breathe," during warms up before an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets in New York. Celebrities have long played a significant role in social change, from Harry Belafonte marching for civil rights to Muhammad Ali’s anti-war activism. James and other basketball stars made news in 2014 when they wore T-shirts to protest the death of Eric Garner.  (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2014 file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James wears a T-shirt reading "I Can't Breathe," during warms up before an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets in New York. Celebrities have long played a significant role in social change, from Harry Belafonte marching for civil rights to Muhammad Ali’s anti-war activism. James and other basketball stars made news in 2014 when they wore T-shirts to protest the death of Eric Garner. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File) 

When the NBA regular season tips off Oct. 17, there will be more reasons than the usual opening night storylines to watch.

Kyrie Irving’s Celtics debut in Cleveland and Chris Paul and James Harden’s first game together as Rockets against the defending champion Golden State Warriors is more than enough reason for fans to tune in for the first night of basketball.

Others will be watching to see if there’s a protest.

There have been small acts - locking arms during the anthem - in the preseason.

Whatever happens opening night should act as an outline for the rest of the season with the game’s biggest stars in the spotlight, and commissioner Adam Silver should be comfortable with the biggest names setting the tone.

It’s best if the players and coaches have a clear, concrete message after the NFL’s widespread kneeling was diluted.

James, Paul and Dwyane Wade already expressed their views on social justice at the 2016 ESPY Awards.

I expect the NBA players to do something, but it likely takes a different route than the NFL after Silver released a memo stating the league will enforce its rule that players and coaches stand for the anthem. It has not been announced if there will be a punishment for breaking the rule.

The NBA is known as the most progressive of the major sports leagues, so I would think any ramifications for taking a stand would be minimal.

The NBA’s rule has been broken before.

In 1995-96 season, the Nuggets’ Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf either sat or stayed in the locker room for the anthem. It resulted in a one-game suspension from former commissioner David Stern. Abdul-Rauf later agreed to stand with his team and pray while the anthem was played. Following the expiration of his contract a couple years later, the 6-foot-1 guard was out of the NBA for good.

Things are different this time around.

It’s not my spot to say what’s an appropriate protest - especially when it’s the kind of action critics were asking for when riots broke out in Baltimore and Ferguson.

James is more than comfortable in the spotlight and handles himself well when speaking on sensitive subjects. He previously wore an “I can’t breathe” T-shirt in warmups, paying homage to Eric Garner, a New York man who was killed by police. James also described the president as a “bum” in recent weeks.

James will get the first opportunity to make a statement on national television before the Warriors, who have also beefed with Trump in recent weeks, get a chance to follow.

What happens on that Tuesday night will set the tone for what could be a season of protest in the NBA.

Now for the music… Rilo Kiley’s second album “The Execution of All Things” turned 15 this week. It took me a couple years for the band’s blend of indie pop and rock to find its way into my iTunes, but it’s been a staple ever since. Front woman later Jenny Lewis went on to blow up on her own with recent hits “Just One of the Guys” and “She’s Not Me,” but the Rilo Kiley stuff remains my go-to in Lewis’ discography. My favorite from the album is “With Arms Outstretched.”

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