MIAMI — Meyers Leonard’s coach and Miami Heat teammates offered no excuse Wednesday for his use of an anti-Semitic slur while livestreaming a video game earlier this week, nor did they make any effort to hide their disappointment in him in their first public comments about the incident.
“He said something that was extremely distasteful and hurtful,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And we’re left with the aftermath of that.”
Leonard’s use of the slur began circulating widely on social media Tuesday afternoon. Within a few hours, he apologized, the NBA opened an investigation and the Heat announced that he will be away from the team indefinitely.
His season was already over because of a shoulder injury; it’s not a stretch to say his Heat tenure may be over as well.
“There are consequences to words,” Spoelstra said. “And those were extremely hurtful words.”
The Heat went back to work Wednesday to end their All-Star break. The team opens its second-half schedule Thursday against Orlando. Spoelstra has spoken with Leonard, as have other team officials.
“Meyers has been a really good teammate,” Spoelstra said. “He’s a good human being.”
Leonard issued a public apology, saying he did not know what the slur he was using meant. The NBA is investigating and could fine or suspend Leonard when that probe is completed.
“We can’t tolerate that here,” Heat captain and 18-year veteran Udonis Haslem said of the usage of the slur. “Right is right and wrong is wrong. And since I’ve been here in this organization, to the day I leave this organization and beyond, we’re going to try to be on the right side of everything — especially issues like this.”
Haslem was asked if Leonard ever used language around him that was offensive.
“No, sir,” Haslem said. “I’ve never heard him use any language that made me uncomfortable at all.”
The video drew reactions from league officials, members of other teams, celebrities and even athletes from other sports.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, who has openly embraced his Jewish heritage, posted a letter to Leonard on social media and said he did so to offer perspective. Edelman also said he is in Miami often, and invited Leonard to meet for a Shabbat dinner with friends.
“I get the sense that you didn’t use that word out of hate, more out of ignorance,” Edelman wrote. “Most likely, you weren’t trying to hurt anyone or even profile Jews in your comment. That’s what makes it so destructive. When someone intends to be hateful, it’s usually met with great resistance. Casual ignorance is harder to combat and has greater reach, especially when you command great influence.”
Spoelstra has offered high praise for Leonard’s work ethic and effort many times during the 7-foot center’s year and a half with the team.
Those days seem long ago now.
“It doesn’t matter the intent,” Spoelstra said. “It’s just not right.”