South Florida Sun Sentinel |
Oct 08, 2021 at 12:25 PM
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Out of the NBA since uttering an anti-Semitic slur and then being traded and released last March, veteran center Meyers Leonard said he would embrace the opportunity for a second chance with the Miami Heat.
A part-time starter for the Heat during his year-plus tenure with the team, including as an injury replacement during the 2020 NBA Finals, Leonard has not appeared in an NBA game since Jan. 19. He then was sidelined by a shoulder injury that required surgery.
From there, he was suspended for a week and fined $50,000 by the NBA in March after using an offensive anti-Semitic slur while livestreaming video-game play on the Twitch platform, and then was traded by the Heat on March 17 to the Oklahoma City Thunder along with a second-round 2027 NBA draft pick for veteran forward Trevor Ariza. Leonard immediately was released by the Thunder without reporting, with Ariza leaving the Heat in the offseason for the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency.
Interviewed by TMZ in Beverly Hills, Calif., where he has trained and has relocated, Leonard, 29, said he was hopeful for a second chance.
“‘I would be ecstatic if I could play for the Miami Heat again,” he said. “I fell in love with that place. I really did. My wife and I love it there. [Heat owner] Micky Arison, the Arison family is incredible, Pat Riley, Andy Elisburg, Adam Simon, the rest of the front office, Spo [coach Erik Spoelstra] and his entire staff, there’s something about the culture there that is just me.
“I can only be hopeful that people will allow me to bounce back from a mistake.”
In the wake of his comment, for which he issued an immediate apology, Leonard worked with several Jewish organizations in South Florida to gain a deeper understanding of the offensive nature of the term used and of the faith.
He told TMZ, “It’s hard to explain. The people who have been the most loving and the most compassionate, showing the most grace, have been so many people from the Jewish community.”
Leonard explained what the intervening months have been like.
“It’s been a very, very long and hard process,” he told TMZ, “when the death threats, and my wife is being told ‘don’t leave your house, we’re gonna rape you,’ and, these things. It was hard. So, a lot of these things are difficult to share, but over time I’ve been able to heal.
“I can only be hopeful that people will allow me bounce back from a mistake. This was a mistake of extreme ignorance, and I own it.”
The Heat currently have three centers under contract in Bam Adebayo, Dewayne Dedmon and Omer Yurtseven, without space under the NBA luxury tax to add an additional player. Prior to his shoulder injury, Leonard had been phased out of the Heat rotation, in part because of his lumbering defensive play.
In addition to his NBA fine and suspension, Leonard was ordered by the league to attend a cultural-diversity program.
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During a June visit to a Boca Raton synagogue, Leonard said, “I will make my way back, mark my words.,
Leonard has only recently returned to social media and a more public presence, including an Instagram post that read, in part:
“Over the last five months, I have immersed myself in the process of learning about the Jewish community. This was not something prescribed or forced upon me. It’s something that I felt and knew in my heart was right to do, which is why, I chose to do it privately.
“Having the ability to learn about one another is not a form of punishment, it is a gift. Our differences aren’t what divide us, it’s our lack of understanding that does.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have had so many real and honest conversations with Jewish friends and leaders about the beliefs, history, and challenges faced and still facing the Jewish community. Listening to the first-hand experiences of how antisemitic views and actions have been weaponized over and over again throughout history and still persist today is troubling. I’m committed to being an ally.”