Meyers Leonard, a former first-round NBA pick who has not played in the league since 2021, after using an antisemitic slur during a livestream of a game, told ESPN that he has “no excuses” for what he did, but what he expects. to play in the NBA again.
“I feel like I’m living in a bad dream,” Leonard told Jeremy Schaap of “Beyond the Lines” in an interview that aired Tuesday. “… There’s not a cell in my body that I hate. And I know that I’ve made a huge, huge 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 on the couch. He underwent ankle surgery in April 2021 and is said to have suffered nerve damage as a result of the procedure.
He rehabbed shoulder and ankle surgeries for two seasons while outside playing professional basketball.
In 447 NBA games, Leonard averaged 5.6 points and 3.9 rebounds. He also famously took a stand while joining his film crew to protest police brutality during the national anthem game in Orlando during the COVID-19-delayed 2019-20 season.
He later said in an interview for ESPN Andscape that he supported the military (his brother served in Afghanistan) and “the pain in my heart” for people of color after the shooting of George Floyd and Jacob Blake in 2020.
Now just 30 years old, Leonard has worked for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Leonard Schaap said he did not know the history or meaning of the antisemitic slur used, but said it was “less than ideal language used in a large part of the video game.”
He added: “There are absolutely no excuses for what happened on that day. And ignorance, unfortunately, is the very truth. … It’s not running from this, but I didn’t know this happened.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high of 2,717 in the US in 2021 — an average of more than seven incidents per day and a 34% increase year over year. The number is the highest on record since the ADL began tracking antisemitic events in 1979.
After the prank went public, Leonard apologized on Instagram and was suspended by the NBA for a week. He was also fined $50,000. A week later, Miami traded him to Oklahoma City, which later released him.
“I felt like I destroyed my life and everything I worked for to be honest,” Schaap said. “… People had every right, I believe, to make assumptions about me. People were held in the media, they explain this. And I understand, I do.
“I said, you better go ahead, handle this and show what’s in your heart.”
He added: “I thought it would be easier for me to be dead than to deal with what happened, because I want everyone to love me. I don’t hate anyone. I would never intentionally hurt anyone.”
Leonard was asked about Kyrie Irving, who posted an Instagram story and a link to a 2018 Amazon movie that contains an antisemitic description.
“I can only speak for myself and what I can say is that antisemitism is very real and more people need to be educated and understand everything … about the history of what is going on,” he said.
Leonard added: “Even more so, if you make a mistake or if you say something that maybe you don’t mean to hurt someone, but then you try to explain it, it’s just simply the best, in my opinion. To grieve and heal that always happens.”
Said NBA spokesman Mike Bass: “Because of the derogatory use and the term accepted in 2021, Leonard Meyers will be held accountable and has dedicated a lot of time to trying to understand the impact of his comment. He has met with many leaders in the Jewish community and shared community programs to educate himself and the platform to be used to share their teachings with others.”
Specifically, he noted that Leonard sought advice from two rabbis in South Florida. He also said that he met more frequently with Jewish organizations and learned more about antisemitism.
But he’ll know he knows what he did, and he’ll have to deal with it if he returns to the NBA court.
“I’ll be a little afraid of what someone might say to me, what a fan might say,” Schaap said. “But I always come back to this: don’t give up. If you’re a good person and you work hard, things work out in life. And I believe that from the bottom of my heart.”