CBS Sports personality Doug Gottlieb ripped Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant after he and several teammates donned black T-shirts Tuesday emblazoned with “I Can’t Breathe” in support of the family of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died in July after New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in a chokehold. Gottlieb implied that Bryant’s wealth left him unable to relate to the situation.
“Kobe Bryant lives in Newport Coast, takes a chopper to games, made $60m last 2 years.. the struggle is real #ICANTBREATH,” he wrote on Twitter before quickly deleting the post. Later, he defended his comment as an example of “freedom of speech.”
“No room for discourse w/people -- freedom of speech is for both sides -- not just the popular,” he said. Gottlieb appeared to apologize for the comment on Wednesday, tweeting: “Wrong topic to joke about.. my bad.”
Bryant didn't immediately address Gottlieb’s tweet, but spoke to reporters Tuesday night about his tribute to Garner. “I think it’s us supporting that movement and supporting each other as well as athletes,” Bryant said after a 98-85 win over the Sacramento Kings, according to ESPN.
“I think the beauty of our country lies in its democracy. I think if we ever lose the courage to be able to speak up for the things that we believe in, I think we really lose the value that our country stands for. It’s important that we have our opinions. It’s important that we stand up for what we believe in and we all don’t have to agree with it, and it’s completely fine. That’s what makes this a beautiful country,” he added.
The “I Can’t Breathe” slogan became a rallying cry for protesters in November after a Rockford County grand jury opted not to indict Pantaleo on criminal charges. Garner repeated the phrase to New York police officers several times before losing consciousness. He suffered a heart attack and died en route to the hospital.
Several major NBA players, including Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose and Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, have worn the black T-shirts before games. Scattered reports said rapper and former Brooklyn Nets owner Jay Z may have distributed the shirts to several Nets players before their game Monday night against the Cavaliers.
“It’s not a Cavs thing. It’s a worldly thing,” James said before the game, according to ESPN.
The NBA league office won't fine players who wore the “I Can’t Breathe” shirt for dress code violations. However, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stated his wish that players dress according to league regulations. “I respect Derrick Rose and all of our players for voicing their personal views on important issues but my preference would be for players to abide by our on-court attire rules,” he said.
The “I Can’t Breathe” tributes began just days after several members of the St. Louis Rams struck the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” pose in solidarity with Ferguson, Missouri, protesters against the police shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. The NFL also opted not to discipline or fine the players for their actions.