If LeBron James doesn’t want to play basketball, then nobody is playing basketball.
Patrick Beverley tweeted this sentiment, and no matter how much sarcasm may or may not have been included, there is an undeniable truth in his words: if the best player in the world decides that he doesn’t want to make the trip down to Walt Disney World, no one will. LeBron’s star power and influence over the league is more impactful than anyone not named Adam Silver. If LeBron did decide to sit out, others would surely follow his lead and the “bubble” would pop before the NBA could even blow it up.
Now, if Beverley himself tweets that he won’t be attending the restart, the media storm that follows would not be nearly as severe. LeBron would never explicitly come out and say anything like that, though. That’s not how he operates. He even went as far as to state that he could go down to Orlando while continuing the fight against racial injustices. Other prominent figures within the NBA – Kyrie Irving, Avery Bradley, Dwight Howard, CJ McCollum, among others – believe it should be one or the other; the league either stands together to combat systemic racism by putting basketball aside for now, or everyone reconvenes down in Orlando to finish the 2019-20 season. Either outcome is going to create problems and neither side is going to come away totally happy.
When you add in younger players such as Donovan Mitchell, who is concerned with an increased risk for injury following an extended break, or even two former Wildcats, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo, who are rightfully worried about their upcoming contract extensions, even more issues pop up. Another main worry is the safety of everyone involved in the bubble while the coronavirus continues to take its toll on the country. The NBA’s restart isn’t scheduled until July 30, so there is time to flesh out these concerns. That’s still 44 days away from the time of this post. And a lot can happen in 44 days, but especially when it involves a virus that has killed over 115,000 Americans in under six months.
When the NBA initially announced the restart, I found myself optimistic. They located an ideal venue to hold the makeshift season with a schedule to make it all work, two of the biggest issues from the jump. The league made sure to keep pivotal information tight to the belt, but they had a clear plan of action. However, once the players began to catch wind of what was going on and new information started to leak, my tune changed. Kyrie Irving, who is vice president of the Player’s Association, is leading the way as a voice for his peers after he was apart of a coalition of players that sent a statement to ESPN on Monday outlining why a return to basketball at this time might be inappropriate.
Here are the final three paragraphs of the statement, as they stuck out to me the most. You can read the entire statement here.
“We are combating the issues that matter most: We will not accept the racial injustices that continue to be ignored in our communities. We will not be kept in the dark when it comes to our health and well-being. And we will not ignore the financial motivations/expectations that have prevented us historically from making sound decisions.
“This is not about individual players, athletes or entertainers. This is about our group of strong men and women uniting for change. We have our respective fields, however, we will not just shut up and play to distract us from what this whole system has been about: Use and Abuse.
“We are all fathers, daughters, leaders and so much more. So what is our BIG picture? We are in this for UNITY and CHANGE!”
According to ESPN, the coalition was established with NBA star presence as the face to help express the thoughts of players whose voices are typically marginalized in a star-centric league. This isn’t just about resuming or canceling the season, this is about changing how players are perceived and treated in the future. So far, there aren’t expected to be enough players who sit out that it would cause a problem with the restart, however that could change. The Athletic reported on Tuesday that players have until June 25 to decide whether or not they’ll rejoin the rest of the league.
Dwight Howard and Damian Lillard have come out and expressed concerns around the optics of a return and how much it could take away from the Black Lives Matter movement. Irving took a similar route, too. I won’t try and answer the question of whether or not they’re right, but I will add a few thoughts from other people. Bomani Jones thinks players like Howard and Irving are misrepresenting how long a continued battle against racial injustices would actually take.
dwight and kyrie mean well but…like, how long would this period of reflection be? you think this is something you work out in a few months? this project will take decades. https://t.co/QoHB87OuS7
— bomani (@bomani_jones) June 14, 2020
Then you have other NBA players such as Utah Jazz center Ed Davis who think Howard and Irving are more willing to speak up because they’ve already made all their money, which might be true in a sense considering they are well-established veterans. But let’s not pretend like Ed Davis hasn’t made almost $35 million over his nine-year career. Irving and Howard are still subject to take massive financial hits, too.
Either everyone goes down and plays or they don’t. There won’t be an in-between, outside of players/staff members with significant pre-existing conditions. On Tuesday, Avery Bradley told ESPN that he supports players who want to raise awareness while playing in the bubble, although it’s going to take a serious effort from the team owners, too.
“Regardless of how much media coverage will be received, talking and raising awareness about social injustice isn’t enough,” Bradley told ESPN. “Are we that self-centered to believe no one in the world is aware of racism right now? That as athletes, we solve the real issues by using our platforms to speak?
“We don’t need to say more. We need to find a way to achieve more. Protesting during an anthem, wearing T-shirts is great, but we need to see real actions being put in to the works.”
This is where the conversation tends to divide. There appears to be a group of players who believe they can go down to Orlando and still make a significant impact. Then there’s the other group that believes it must go far deeper than that to create real, systemic change. Athletes have used their platforms in the past to help fight against injustices, but can the impact they’ve made be accurately measured? As Bradley points out, it’s going to take more than protests and messages. Real change needs to be made, starting at the top. Here’s the reality of the situation: a league ran by white owners wants to bring back a financial gain for themselves that poses serious health risks to the people – mainly Black people – they have control over. Now more than ever, that’s a terrible look.
Ultimately, I believe everyone will decide to go down and participate if the event holds up as planned. The players and the league office will find a way to work things out in good faith; this isn’t going to draw any comparisons to what is currently happening with Major League Baseball. My biggest concern is the bubble falling apart before anyone can even get down to Florida.
One of the issues the players’ coalition cited, according to ESPN, is the surging cases in Florida, which has seen an increase in positive tests since reopening the state. According to the CDC, Florida had the third-highest cases of any state over the last seven days. The most glaring hole in the NBA’s proposed “bubble” plan is the rumor that Disney employees won’t be subjected to the same quarantine protocols as the players, effectively rendering the bubble into a petri dish. Those issues need to be addressed immediately.
A plan has been tentatively set, but if the last few days tell us anything, there is still a long road ahead before July 30. No answer is going to be perfect.