NBA’s Meyers Leonard set for comeback, two years after antisemitism scandal

Former Miami Heat center signs 10-day contract with Milwaukee Bucks, allowing him to play first game in national league since using anti-Jewish slur online

File: Miami Heat's Meyers Leonard plays during an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, in Philadelphia, December 18, 2019. (AP/Matt Slocum)
File: Miami Heat's Meyers Leonard plays during an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, in Philadelphia, December 18, 2019. (AP/Matt Slocum)

MIAMI, United States (AP) — Meyers Leonard is getting another chance at the NBA, nearly two years after he used an antisemitic slur while playing a video game that was being live-streamed.

A person with knowledge of the negotiations said Leonard and the Milwaukee Bucks have agreed on a 10-day contract, opening the door for the 7-foot center to play in an NBA game for the first time since January 2021. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced.

ESPN first reported the agreement between Leonard and the Bucks.

Leonard’s career was jeopardized and his reputation was seriously damaged on March 8, 2021, when it was discovered that he used a slur while playing an online game as others watched on a live stream. The Heat told him to stay away from the team indefinitely, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver fined him $50,000 and Miami eventually traded him to Oklahoma City.

Leonard said then that he knew he’d used a bad term, but was unaware of the term’s meaning. In an apology, he said, “my ignorance about its history and how offensive it is to the Jewish community is absolutely not an excuse and I was just wrong.” He immediately began scheduling meetings with Holocaust survivors, rabbis in South Florida, and other community leaders.

That was the start of him spending much of the last two years trying to atone for what he did — almost all of it quietly, in a deliberate effort to quash any notion his work was simply done to get positive media coverage. He has spoken and worked with several Jewish groups on various things, put on a number of basketball camps for Jewish children, and apologized countless times for what he said and his ignorance about what the term meant.

Leonard was not going to play in the remainder of that 2020-21 season after suffering a shoulder injury in January of 2021, two months before the incident. He has since dealt with ankle and other issues but has been working toward an NBA return for months.

For the Bucks, the move carries almost no risk. They’ll get 10 days to see if Leonard — who was with Miami for its run to the 2020 NBA Finals in the restart bubble at Walt Disney World — can help with their playoff push.

Most players and coaches chose to kneel in that bubble for the playing of the US and Canadian national anthems when the NBA season resumed there. Leonard stood instead, his hand over his heart, and did so with the support of Heat teammates.

“I am a compassionate human being and I truly love all people,” Leonard told The Associated Press at the time.

For his career, Leonard has averaged 5.6 points and 3.9 rebounds on 48% shooting, 39% from 3-point range.

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