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Joakim Noah praises Kaepernick, calls Trump remarks ‘divisive’

Joakim Noah speaking to the media after practice

Joakim Noah speaking to the media after practice at training camp at Madison Square Garden Training Center in Greenburgh,NY on Sat. Sept. 30, 2017. Credit: Errol Anderson

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — As someone who has taken a stand on social issues in the past, Joakim Noah gave a shoutout to former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for getting people to talk about “social injustice” and said Saturday that President Donald Trump’s remarks about NFL players who protest during the national anthem are “dividing” the country.

Noah was responding to questions about a recent memo sent by the NBA to all 30 teams suggesting ways to show unity within their communities while reminding players that the rule is everyone must stand during the national anthem.

Noah said he understands the NBA’s stance. He and several other Knicks said they haven’t decided what they will do when they play their first preseason game Tuesday. Last year, the Knicks and the Rockets stood together and locked arms during the anthem to show solidarity.

“For some reason, I feel like things are a little bit different,” Noah said following practice. “I don’t know why, but I just feel there’s more emphasis on it so . . . Shout out to Kaepernick for that.”

Noah created a stir last year when he chose not to dine with the cadets during Knicks training camp at West Point because of his anti-war views. His Noah’s Arc Foundation promotes unity and peace with a hope of ending gun violence.

He said he’s been paying close attention to what’s happened in the NFL. Noah supports and stands with the NFL players and teams for what they’ve done.

“I think it’s great,” Noah said. “We’re finally talking about social injustice. People always want to talk about the flag. Of course, the flag is very important. But let’s not forget the reason for the protests are because of social injustice.”

Trump began a firestorm with his remarks during a rally in Alabama and on Twitter about football players not standing during the anthem and has continued to hammer the issue, saying players who refuse to kneel for the anthem should be “fired.”

Noah believes the number of players who have knelt or done some kind of protest has grown because of Trump called out their freedom of expression.

“Yeah, 100 percent,” Noah said. “The leader of this country is dividing people and making things a lot more complicated.”

In the memo that was sent by the NBA, Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum recommended that a player or coach address the fans before the anthem or show a video expressing unity within the community.

Tatum said team leaders should meet and speak to the players and hear their perspective. The memo states that the league supports and encourages players to express their views on matters that are important to them. But it also states the NBA’s rule “that players, coaches and trainers stand respectfully for the anthem.”

The league will determine how to deal with any instance where someone doesn’t stand.

“We spoke about it a little bit,” Noah said. “It’s a very confusing time in this country. As athletes, we have platforms. The NBA is a big platform, so I understand where the NBA’s coming from.”

Lance Thomas, another Knicks leader, said he hadn’t seen the memo. But he would read it and talk about it with his teammates.

“Whatever we do, we’ll do it as a team,” Thomas said. “We’re going to do whatever do we together.”

On the court, Noah, 32, was very active and effective during a scrimmage Saturday, grabbing offensive rebounds and finishing at the rim. Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said he’s been “shocked” by how Noah has looked following knee and shoulder surgeries.

“Literally I’m shocked of how well he’s playing, just because I didn’t think he was going to be ready this early,” Hornacek said. “So I’m extremely happy how he’s playing. He’s playing the right way . . . He’s playing great.”

Noah, a former All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year, had a rough first season on and off the court after the Knicks gave him a four-year, $72 million contract.

He averaged 5.0 points and 8.8 rebounds in an injury-riddled season that also featured a 20-game suspension for violating the terms of the NBA’s anti-drug policy.

Noah can play in the preseason, but he will be suspended the first 12 regular-season games. The Knicks are also going with a youth movement and they already have two centers in their 20s — Willy Hernangomez and Enes Kanter — so it’s unclear what Noah’s role will be. But he’s just happy to be on the court again.

“It’s fun to compete,” Noah said. “That’s what I want to do. I want to compete. I know I have a suspension but I just want to be a good influence on the younger kids from now on.

“I just know I have a lot of experience in this game, good and bad. I just want to use that to try to help some of these younger players. When you go through what I went through and you have a lot of injuries and things like that, you just appreciate practice and competing. I’m just happy to be here.”

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