MIAMI (AP) - Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were only a few miles away from Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, participating in the NBA All-Star game on the night the unarmed black teenager wearing a hooded sweatshirt was shot to death by a neighborhood crime-watch volunteer.
They never knew the teenager, but on Friday they decided it was time to speak out _ as did many others around the NBA.
A couple hours later, James posted another photo _ this one of 13 Heat players, all wearing team-logo hoodies, their heads bowed, their hands stuffed into their pockets. The photo was taken at the team hotel, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called it “a powerful statement.”
“As a father, this hits home,” said Wade, who has 10- and 4-year-old sons.
Among the hashtags James linked to the team photo: “WeWantJustice.” The National Basketball Players Association issued a statement saying it was saddened and horrified by the killing, demanded an arrest and accused the police department in Sanford, Fla. _ where Martin was shot _ of “racial bias.”
“It really is a tragic story,” Spoelstra said. “And the more you learn about it, the more confused you get.”
Martin was killed as he was returning to a gated community, carrying candy and iced tea. The neighborhood crime-watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, said he acted in self-defense. He has not been arrested, though state and federal authorities are still investigating.
“This situation hit home for me because last Christmas, all my oldest son wanted as a gift was hoodies,” Wade told The Associated Press on Friday from Auburn Hills, Mich., hours before the Heat defeated the Detroit Pistons. “So when I heard about this a week ago, I thought of my sons. I’m speaking up because I feel it’s necessary that we get past the stereotype of young, black men and especially with our youth.”
Protests have popped up nationwide in recent days, with thousands of people _ many of them wearing hoodies _ calling for action.
“Our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of Trayvon Martin for their loss and for everyone involved in this terrible tragedy,” the Heat said in a statement Friday afternoon. “We support our players and join them in hoping that their images and our logo can be part of the national dialogue and can help in our nation’s healing.”
“It was very emotional, an emotional day for all of us,” James said. “Taking that picture, we’re happy that we’re able to shed light on the situation that we feel is unjust.”
The Heat tributes did not end with the photos that Wade and James attached to their social media accounts. Several Heat players, including Wade and James, took the floor Friday night with messages such as “RIP Trayvon Martin” and “We want justice” scrawled on their sneakers.
“I couldn’t imagine if my son went to a store just to get some Skittles and a pop or iced tea and they didn’t come home,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. “We’ve been following the story individually very closely. It’s just unfortunate. We just feel like something needed to be done about it. It’s only right. It’s only fair. … I think it’s at least a start in the right direction.”