Cairns Taipans coach Adam Forde has said he’s proud of his side after they opted not to wear the Champion Pride Round uniform in their clash with South East Melbourne Phoenix on Wednesday. 

Speaking after the Taipans’ defeat in Melbourne on Wednesday night, Forde said the team chose not to wear the jersey with a rainbow logo after they were subject to “targeted attacks”.

Coach Forde – who wore a rainbow badge courtside — interjected in the post-match press conference in his players’ defence. 

“I don’t want to hijack … but we’re supportive of it [pride round] … what we’re trying to avoid is these targeted attacks,” he said.

“We’re doing this because we got around our brothers and we want to protect each other and rather than feel like we’re getting singled out for any particular reason … And I’m proud of them for it,” Forde added.

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For the NBL’s first-ever pride round, each team could opt to wear their regular jerseys, but with a small logo on the chest featuring rainbow colours.

In a statement released shortly before Wednesday’s game, the club said its players had been “subjected to a barrage of abuse and harmful commentary that has led to individuals being targeted and shamed” ahead of the pride round match.

“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,” the statement read.

“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.”

Phoenix player Allan Williams said he didn’t notice the absence of the logo on his opposition during the match.

“I couldn’t see it, whatever Cairns decides to do, that’s on Cairns,” he said.

Composite pic of two NBL players, the one on the left playing without a rainbow logo on his jersey, the other one with it on.
Phoenix players (right) wore the rainbow logo against Cairns, while the Taipans players chose not to have them on their jerseys.(Getty Images)

He also noted the “strength” it takes to support your teammates, particularly surrounding a difficult and potentially controversial decision.

Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell was also sympathetic to the backlash the Taipans’ received.

“I know they’re going to be up for a little bit of finger pointing, they already have been. I’m sure the reason none of them wore it was, we don’t want to expose anybody,” Mitchell said.

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

Former ESPN reporter James McKern wrote on Twitter: “See that tiny ass logo on his chest?! That’s what the Taipans refused to wear for the Pride Round. You can’t even see it on the broadcast. Absolute joke from the organisation”.

NBL league owner Larry Kestelman also issued a statement in support of Taipans’ players.

“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,” the statement read.

“[The NBL] will continue to create a place where all people feel safe and can be themselves, with no judgement.”

Retired Australian basketballer AJ Ogilvy joined the conversation: “To everyone who said ‘the NBL doesn’t need a pride round’ – this is why they do.”

Melbourne United’s Issac Humphries became the first active openly gay player in the league last November, coming out in an emotional video where he revealed the mental health struggles, when dealing with his sexuality.

Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell added: “If that doesn’t hurt everyone in our league to a degree … to know that there are people out there who are feeling that way. We’ve got to open our arms up to them.”

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Phoenix player Mitch Creek has been an advocate for the NBL’s inaugural pride round, and wore bright coloured shoes during the match to show his support.

He told commentators: “It’s an immense occasion, it’s one that, you know we have to have this conversation, unfortunately.”

“Love is love, no matter who you are or where you come from, just trying to show my support,” Creek said.

The NBL isn’t the first sporting code to receive backlash during a pride round, with the Manly Sea-Eagles forced to apologise for its handling when including rainbow colours on the club jersey.

Seven players boycotted their NRL match last over their team’s decision to wear a gay pride jersey, due to their religious and personal beliefs.

The Brisbane Bullets will play the New Zealand Breakers on Thursday night, with both sides wearing the pride jersey.

The NBL understands all other clubs and players will also participate for the remainder of the pride round.