One week after the league approved its plan to bring back the 2019-20 season, objections began to emerge about various aspects of the plan. Players were not sold on being locked into a hotel campus for months and spending weeks without their families present. They were also unsure of the health ramifications of returning to action with the threat of coronavirus infection still looming.
NBA officials expected these kinds of issues to require some refining with the players before the league could get training camps underway. But officials were not expecting that the cause of social justice would become a sudden impediment to getting players back on the floor.
The spread of protests against police violence, which reached a tipping point following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis late last month, has been an overarching story in the nation. Many players are uncomfortable bringing back basketball at a time when the cause of Black Lives Matter seems far more important.
According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, the league is addressing that. In a statement, NBA spokesman Mike Bass said about the cause of social justice, “We understand the players’ concerns and are working with the Players Association on finding the right balance to address them.”
Kyrie Irving Leading NBA Dissent
On Friday, in a call led by Nets star Kyrie Irving, several players cited the nationwide protests against police violence as a reason for players to torpedo the possibility of getting back on the floor. Those protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis late last month, have not wavered much in recent weeks, especially as police violence has persisted.
“I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving reportedly said. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit. … Something smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.”
Irving, it should be noted, is the Nets’ player rep and voted to resume the season in Orlando. That vote went 28-0.
Some in the NBA’s offices have been frustrated with Irving and other players speaking up at this point, rather than doing so before the vote was taken. The league has been aware that not all players would want to play in Orlando and would have worked with those players had they voiced concerns earlier.
Dwight Howard, LeBron James at Odds
Lakers center Dwight Howard was outspoken in his wish to not continue the season. In a statement released to CNN this weekend, he said:
I agree with Kyrie [Irving]. Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction. Sure it might not distract us, the players, but we have resources at hand [the] majority of our community don’t have. And the smallest distraction for them can start a trickle down effect that may never stop. Especially with the way the climate is now. I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA Championship. But the unity of my people would be an even bigger championship, that’s just to (sic) beautiful to pass up. What better time than now for us to be focusing on our families. This is a rare opportunity that, I believe, we as a community should take full advantage of. When have we ever had this amount of time to sit and be with our families. This is where our unity starts. At home! With family! European colonization stripped us of our rich history, and we have yet to sit down and figure us out. The less distractions, the more we can put into action into rediscovering ourselves. Nations come out of families. Black/African American is not a nation or nationality. It’s time our families became their own nations. No basketball till we get things resolved.
On the flip side, Lakers star LeBron James has been pushing to keep the season return on track. James was among the prominent players who united in favor of finishing 2019-20 last month and does not want to squander the chance to win a championship as a Laker—or to see the NBA’s salary structure torpedoed by the loss of this year’s revenue. That could hurt players as a whole.
James has been outspoken on social causes in recent years, too, and his mindset, reportedly, is that having the platform of a rebooted NBA season could give him and other players more of a voice in speaking out.