(Reuters) - Kevin Durant says Colin Kaepernick's protests during the U.S. national anthem "touched a nerve" in society and sparked a national conversation about issues such as racial equality, the Golden State player told the San Jose Mercury News.
In an interview published on Monday, Durant said he admired the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback for taking the stance, despite the backlash it provoked.
"It definitely put me in a different place because we just started talking about stuff that’s always been going on," Durant said.
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"It was really out of nowhere ... He shocked everybody by doing that.
"You just see he touched something in people that we didn’t know was there," Durant said. "I posted a picture of him on my Instagram, and the comments under that were ridiculous.
"So he kind of touched a nerve and the outrage from it made me a fan of him just because he decided to take all that on ..."
Kaepernick has been unemployed this season despite injuries at other teams that have created job openings. Some experts attribute his political activism as the key reason teams are wary of signing him.
He opted out of his contract with the 49ers in the offseason but has said his agent reached out to all 32 teams to make sure they were aware of his interest in playing this season.
The protests began in 2016 when Kaepernick began sitting and later kneeling during the anthem to call attention to the killing by police of unarmed black men and boys across the United States, as well as racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Kaepernick inspired many NFL players to kneel in protest during renditions of the national anthem, most notably in September after U.S. President Donald Trump said kneeling players should be fired for disrespecting the country.
Durant, 29, who moved to the NBA champion Warriors last year after eight seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, said his focus on basketball had helped insulate him from trouble when he was growing up.
"I kind of grew up in this basketball world, whereas my talent kind of overrides what I look like," said the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player.
"I didn’t have it as rough when it comes to that, as far as social or systematic oppression or any social issues. They didn’t really apply to me because I could put a ball in a basket."
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Tokyo; Editing by Peter Rutherford)