Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer 66d

J.R. Smith explains his anthem stance

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- J.R. Smith stood several feet behind his teammates as a form of silent protest when the national anthem was played before the Cleveland Cavaliers' intrasquad scrimmage this week, he explained Friday.

"It's not an easy situation for me for the national anthem," Smith said. "Especially coming from where I come from, it's just not. I don't feel like it's represented in the right way.

"Obviously it's a tough conversation for everybody, and it still needs to be, I wouldn't say 'talked about,' because there's been a lot of conversations about it. It's time to start doing. What efforts are we going to put forth towards it? Unfortunately, I just don't feel -- I don't feel like the flag represents what it's supposed to at this point. That's from my perspective why I stood a few feet back from everybody else."

The scrimmage was Monday. On Wednesday, Smith and the entire Cavs team stood shoulder to shoulder and interlocked arms when the national anthem was played before Cleveland's preseason game against the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta's team interlocked arms on the other end of the court as well.

"I'm all about doing whatever the team wants to do. I'm not going to leave my teammates dry or whatever, in that sense," Smith said. "If that's what the guys wanted to do, I'm all for that. As an individual, that's how I feel."

Smith, a 14-year NBA veteran, said his custom the past 2½ years since being traded to Cleveland has been to retreat to the locker room while the anthem is being played "for stretching and trying to get my body loose."

The Cavs chose to link arms Wednesday as a show of support for the victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas last weekend that resulted in 59 people killed and nearly 500 injured. Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue, who spends his offseasons in Las Vegas, personally knows three people who were shot and about 15 who were in attendance at the country music concert at Mandalay Bay when the massacre occurred.

"It's what happened in Vegas," veteran guard Derrick Rose said when asked about the motivation behind the Cavs' demonstration. "A lot that happened. A lot of people traumatized and we're just trying to pay homage and let them know that we care."

Smith said there has been a running dialogue among him and his teammates about the protests that NFL players have conducted on game days since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a seat and later kneeled during the national anthem last season.

"We talk about it throughout the day," Smith said. "Whether it's text or seeing each other, but the initial conversation started in the locker room. T-Lue brought us in together because obviously it was a conversation that everybody was doing, or conversation that ... had to be had from a player's perspective and from an organization side. But it was mainly us, the players."

Retired Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant told The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Chatter podcast that he would kneel during the anthem if he were still playing.

Smith said he believes an NBA player will kneel during the anthem this season.

"I would suspect somebody would," he said. "Depending on who it was or who it is, it just, I don't know. But I would suspect somebody would."

When asked if the Cavs would continue to interlock arms during the anthem this season, Smith was unsure. "Honestly, I don't know," he said.

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