The community of NBA players stands divided following a players-only video conference meeting this Friday led by Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving.
The conference was focused on the league’s plan to resume NBA play in July and was attended by more than 80 NBA players, per The Athletic’s Shams Chariana, including Irving, who is a vice-president of the Players’ Association, NBPA president Chris Paul, Donovan Mitchell, and Kevin Durant.
The player opposition to reopening is complex, informed not only by concerns over the novel coronavirus, but also by fear of increased risk of injury and by ongoing nationwide Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police. “I don’t support going into Orlando,” said Irving on the call, per Shams, “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit.” Another player who was on the call wrote to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski: “Once we start playing basketball again, the news will turn from systemic racism to ‘who did what’ in the game last night,” but added, “It’s a crucial time for us to be able to play and blend that to impact what’s happening.”
This seems to be at the heart of the divide: Some players, such as Irving’s former teammate LeBron James, believe they can help affect “…meaningful change in society…” for black lives while playing in Orlando. Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers took to Instagram to criticize Irving, writing, “Us coming back would put money in all our (NBA players) pockets. With this money you could help out even more people and continue to give more importantly your time and energy towards the BLM movement.”
The faction of NBA players that opposes the reopening plan, however, has voiced concerns about NBA play detracting from the current national focus on police brutality. Also on Instagram, Los Angeles Clippers sixth-man Lou Williams wrote, “[We] are fighting for radical change. Sports has been a healing factor, there we agree. In this climate…it’s a distraction.” While some journalists have painted players such as Williams and Kyrie Irving as ‘disruptors’, there is clearly a reasoned thought process around the message that cancelling the season would send.
Still, other players have raised concerns related to their health, between the risk of Covid-19 and the increased risk of injury from playing at the NBA level after over 150 days of inactivity. Earlier this week, New Orleans Pelicans guard JJ Reddick expressed concerns over Twitter that due to a lack of restrictions being placed on Disney staffers, there actually “Isn’t a bubble.” A group of young stars on the verge of contract extensions, including Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and Kyle Kuzma, have been lobbying the NBPA for allowances for injury insurance if there is to be a resumed season in Orlando.
Clearly, much ground remains to be covered in the conversations around reopening the NBA, but wherever that conversation leads, the players, especially African-American players, need to be a part of it.
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