Around sports world, Juneteenth celebrated like never before

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Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, center, joins other demonstrators in Portland, Ore., during a protest against police brutality and racism, sparked by the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 after being restrained by police in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

Bradley Beal grabbed a microphone and asked the crowd that joined the Washington Wizards and WNBA's Washington Mystics on a march to collectively raise a fist into the air and join together in saying “Together we stand."

And they did.

“We will stand for something bigger than ourselves," Beal said.

Such was the sentiment across sports on Friday, as many teams from the major U.S. pro leagues stopped to commemorate Juneteenth — the celebration of what occurred June 19, 1865, the day that all enslaved Black people in the U.S. learned they had been freed from bondage.

The day carried particular importance this year, with teams recognizing the day as important enough to declare it a paid holiday for workers — acknowledging the problems the country is facing today after several weeks of protests demanding the elimination of police brutality and racial inequality.

Many pro athletes, Black and white, have taken part in those protests.

“We’ve never posted about Juneteenth, but it is always the right time to do better than before," read a tweet posted by the New England Patriots. “Today is a reflection of freedom, a day to celebrate and educate."

The NBA gave its employees paid time off on Juneteenth for the first time and Commissioner Adam Silver urged league personnel to take the day and think about race relations.