NBA superstar LeBron James has spoken out following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

James was one of many who referenced Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who protested against police brutality by kneeling for the American national anthem in the NFL, after Floyd's death.

Four Minneapolis officers involved in the arrest of a black man – later identified as the 46-year-old Floyd – who died in police custody were fired Wednesday, hours after a bystander's video showed an officer kneeling on the handcuffed man's neck, even after he pleaded that he could not breathe and stopped moving.

The man's death was under investigation by the FBI and state law enforcement authorities. It immediately drew comparisons to the case of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died in 2014 in New York after he was placed in a chokehold by police and pleaded for his life, saying he could not breathe.

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In an Instagram post showing an officer leaning on Floyd's neck alongside a photo of Kaepernick's peaceful kneeling protest, James wrote: "Do you understand NOW!!??!!?? Or is it still blurred to you?? #StayWoke"

Kaepernick, who hasn't played in the NRL in four years, filed a grievance with the NFL in 2017, alleging he was kept out of the league by owners after he sparked league-wide kneeling protests about the police's treatment of black people in America. He settled for an undisclosed amount in February last year.

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour," Kaepernick told NFL Media in 2016.

"To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

Police said the man matched the description of a suspect in a forgery case at a grocery store, and that he resisted arrest.

The video starts with the man on the ground, and does not show what happened in the moments prior. The unidentified officer is kneeling on his neck, ignoring his pleas. "Please, please, please, I can't breathe. Please, man," said Floyd, who has his face against the pavement.

Floyd also moans. One of the officers tells him to "relax." The man calls for his mother and says: "My stomach hurts, my neck hurts, everything hurts ... I can't breathe." As bystanders shout their concern, one officer says, "He's talking, so he's breathing."

But Floyd stops talking and slowly becomes motionless under the officer's restraint. The officer does not remove his knee until the man is loaded onto a gurney by paramedics.

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Several witnesses had gathered on a nearby sidewalk, some recording the scene on their phones. The bystanders become increasingly agitated. One man yells repeatedly. "He's not responsive right now!" Two witnesses, including one woman who said she was a Minneapolis firefighter, yell at the officers to check the man's pulse. "Check his pulse right now and tell me what it is!" she said.

At one point, an officer says: "Don't do drugs, guys." And one man yells, "Don't do drugs, bro? What is that? What do you think this is?"

The Hennepin County medical examiner identified Floyd but said the cause of death was pending.

Floyd had worked security for five years at a restaurant called Conga Latin Bistro and rented a home from the restaurant owner, Jovanni Thunstrom.

He was "a good friend, person and a good tenant," the restaurateur told the Star Tribune. "He was family. His co-workers and friends loved him."

- with AP