Myers Leonard, a former first-round NBA player who hasn’t played in the league since 2021 after using an anti-Semitic slur during a live video game broadcast, told ESPN there were “no excuses” for what he did, but that he expects to play in the NBA. once again.
“I feel like I’m living in a bad dream,” Leonard told Outside the Lines’ Jeremy Shapp in an interview that aired Tuesday. “…there is no unsavory cell in my body. I know I’ve made a terrible mistake.”
Leonard last played in the NBA in January 2021. He was suspended in March 2021 for using an antisemitic slur while playing a video game during a live broadcast. He underwent ankle surgery in April 2021 and said he suffered nerve damage as a result of the operation.
He has spent time rehabilitating from shoulder and ankle surgeries over the past two seasons while out of professional basketball.
Leonard played 447 games in the NBA, averaging 5.6 points and 3.9 rebounds. He also gained notoriety for standing while his teammates knelt to draw attention to the issue of police brutality during the playing of the national anthem in the Orlando Bubble during the COVID-19 postponement of the 2019-20 season.
He later said in an article for ESPN’s Andscape that he supported the military (his brother served in Afghanistan) and had “a pain in my heart” for people of color after the killing of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake in 2020.
Now in his 30s, Leonard most recently worked with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Leonard told Young he did not know the history or meaning of the antisemitic slur he used, but said “there’s less than perfect language used in a good portion of video games.”
He added, “No excuses whatsoever for what happened that day. Unfortunately ignorance is a very real thing… I’m not running away from this, but I just didn’t know it happened.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high of 2,717 in the United States in 2021 — an average of more than seven incidents per day and a 34% year-over-year increase. It is the highest number on record since the ADL began tracking antisemitic events in 1979.
After his slander was made public, Leonard apologized on Instagram and was suspended by the NBA for a week. He was also fined $50,000. A week after the accident, Miami traded him to Oklahoma City, which later released him.
He told a young man, “I felt like I had just ruined my life and everything I’d worked for, to be honest.” “…People had every right, I think, to make assumptions about me. People, in the media, should have commented on this. And I understand, I do.”
“I said, you better deal with this and show people what’s in your heart.”
He added, “I thought it would be easier to die than deal with what just happened, because I want everyone to love me. I don’t hate anyone. I wouldn’t hurt anyone on purpose.”
Leonard asked Kyrie Irvingwho tweeted and posted an Instagram story that included a link to a 2018 movie on Amazon that was described as containing antisemitic misinformation.
“I can only speak for myself and what I would like to say is that anti-Semitism is very real and more people need to be educated and understand everything … about the history of what happened,” he said.
Leonard added, “More importantly, if you make a mistake or if you say something that maybe you didn’t intend to hurt someone, but then you try to explain it, that’s simply the best, in my opinion, to say sorry and include what happened.”
“Since his use of the derogatory and unacceptable term in 2021, Myers Leonard has been held accountable and has devoted significant time and effort to understanding the impact of his suspension,” said NBA spokesperson Mike Bass. “He has met with numerous leaders in the Jewish community and participated in community programs to educate himself and use his platform to share what Learn it with others.”
Specifically, Leonard indicated that he sought advice from two rabbis in South Florida. He also said that he often met with Jewish organizations and learned more about anti-Semitism.
But he understands that he will be known for what he did and will have to deal with that if he ever returns to the NBA court.
He said to a young man, “I would be a little afraid of what someone might say to me, what a fan might say.” “But I always come back to this: Don’t give up. If you’re a good person and you work hard, things will work out in life. And I believe that wholeheartedly.”