Taipans players collectively choose not to wear Pride Round jersey

The playing group of the Cairns Taipans, who play in Australia's National Basketball League, made the decision on Wednesday evening to not wear its team's Pride Round jersey.

In a statement released roughly 30 minutes before the Taipans were set to tip off against the South East Melbourne Phoenix -- signed by the entire playing group -- the team claimed to support the NBL's "promotion of inclusion and diversity" but cited the "barrage of abuse and harmful commentary that has led to individuals being targeted and shamed," as reason not to wear the jerseys.

"This initiative should be a celebration; however, our team has already been subjected to a barrage of abuse and harmful commentary that has led to individuals being targeted and shamed," the statement said.

"This is a negative distraction to what should be a positive experience across the game, and now we feel as though our only choice as a team is to collectively opt out of this season's uniforms. This is not a reflection of our individual stances or personal views, but a protection of our brothers that are being set up to be vilified and no longer feel as though they have a safe space in our sport.

"Positive change requires positive action, and we believe we can champion different people and groups in our society without persecuting others in the process. We hope everyone finds it in their hearts to understand."

The NBL's Pride Round jerseys are each team's regular playing uniform but with the small Champion logo on the chest featuring rainbow colours.

The NBL is the only top tier men's basketball league with an openly gay player. Melbourne United's Isaac Humphries came out as gay in November, in an emotional video where he also revealed the mental health struggles he experienced while struggling with his sexuality.

The Taipans would go on to lose 85-80 at the hands of the Phoenix at Melbourne's State Basketball Centre, moving to 16-9 on the season.

After the game, Taipans head coach Adam Forde stood by his playing group's decision to not wear the Pride Round jerseys, and amplified the idea of a key reason being to protect a particular player or players from negative backlash. He also continued to claim the franchise supports the league's initiative.

"The one thing that I'm really proud of this group (for), is that (when) we've come to a collective decision, we support them," Forde said.

"We support the NBL's initiative, right, and this is what's really important, is the message of what this round represents: individuality, and unity, and love. And we weren't unfortunately the recipients of it for some unbeknownst reason. We're doing this because we got around our brothers and want to protect each other.

"Rather than feel like we're getting singled out for any particular reason, this is us. And I'm proud of them for it. It doesn't diminish our support, at all, of what the league initiative is. We back it 100 percent; it's perfect. Everything else is pretty much in the main statement."

When the Taipans player in the press conference, Ben Ayre, was asked a question about the playing group's decision, Forde interjected.

"I don't want to hijack you... and I'm sorry to do this to you," Forde said to Ayre, before directing his attention back to the room of journalists.

"We're supportive of it. What we're trying to avoid is these targeted attacks. So, we are supportive of it, and the playing group is supportive of it. It's really important that we understand that."

The vast majority of the Taipans playing group were in favour of wearing the team's Pride Round jersey, sources told ESPN.

Discussions on how to approach the team's Pride Round game were underway in the days leading up to Wednesday's game, sources said, with Taipans General Manager Mark Beecroft meeting with the playing group on Tuesday night. No decision was made directly after that meeting, sources said.

The court in the State Basketball Centre had its free throw line Champion logo in rainbow colours, while all coaches in the game - including Forde and his two assistants - wore pride-themed badges. Mitch Creek, an ambassador for the NBL's Pride Round - who had a Phoenix-high 21 points on the evening - donned rainbow-coloured shoes for the matchup.

The Phoenix's head coach, Simon Mitchell, showed a level of sympathy toward Cairns' decision to protect its player or players from backlash, but expressed hope for progress.

"What this round does is it opens dialogue," Mitchell said. "I think we just leave Cairns alone; just let them do their thing.

"Hopefully, over time, whoever feels like they can't celebrate this round, can get educated enough to realise that, hey, we're really just holding out a hand to our brothers and sisters out there, and we're looking out for our community."

Mitchell made clear his overwhelming support for the initiative, and hearkened back to Humphries' coming out story.

"We've had this thing with Isaac this year, and him coming out, and talking about the issues that he's gone through, and some of the depths of despair he's gone through," Mitchell said.

"If that doesn't hurt everyone in our league, to a degree, it's like, man, I wanna pick a brother up. I don't have a relationship with Isaac, but I... shook his hand and said I'm proud of him, when we played Melbourne. And I hate Melbourne.

"To know there's people out there feeling that way; we've got to open our arms to them, and make sure they know we're a safe place, and we're an ally, and we're friends. Your sexual orientation, or how you identify, doesn't matter to us. Who you are matters to us."

Alan Williams, the Phoenix's big-man, echoed his head coach's sentiments: "I'm a firm believer in support," he said. "I know how much it means to everyone. There are stories from here until the beginning of time about people who had issues with... how the world sees them or perceives them. I think it's a great thing that us as the South East Melbourne Phoenix are doing. We went all out and showed our support. I think the community appreciates that, and I also think it's a great initiative by the NBL in creating this bigger image of inclusion.

"I find it an honour to be able to play in a league like this, for an organisation like this, in a round like this, because it's super significant to a lot of people who feel unrepresented."

The NBL's owner and Executive Chairman, Larry Kestelman, released a statement after the Taipans revealed their intention to collectively not wear the Pride Round jersey.

"The NBL acknowledges the overwhelming amount of support we have received following the launch of our inaugural Pride Round, and will continue to create a place where all people feel safe and can be themselves, with no judgement," the statement read.

"This means having important conversations about diversity and inclusion and making sure we continue to work together from a position of love, care and support.

"The NBL fully respects and understands that there may be people in the community with different views to those being conveyed through the Champion Pride Round. Hence we have not mandated that our players have to wear the Pride jersey and if any player or team elect not to wear the jersey, we will respect that decision.:"