About a week ago, there was excitement in the air for the NBA to finally return from a months-long hiatus due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Since the league and players’ union voted on the format for returning to play, however, it’s become increasingly clear that neither side has completely thought this through.
On Friday, about 80 NBA and WNBA players were reported to be on a conference call discussing their concerns about the season resuming. While health and safety was an important issue regarding the decision to play all remaining games in a “bubble” in Orlando, Florida, the main reported concern has been the NBA’s role in the ongoing protests across the country against police brutality and racial injustice.
Brooklyn Nets’ star Kyrie Irving has been reported as the player who initially brought up the concern of the season becoming a distraction from a very real issue impacting players and their families but he is far from the only one to voice those questions. Lakers’ players Avery Bradley and Dwight Howard were also reported to have spoken up during this conference call and the center released a statement to CNN on Saturday detailing his thought process and why he believed basketball should be an afterthought at the moment:
Dwight Howard statement, provided by his agent, to CNN: pic.twitter.com/sk9uSSHlpp
— Jill Martin (@ByJillMartin) June 14, 2020
There are obviously many layers to this story and perhaps no true right answer. We all want basketball back but it’s hard to place importance on sports over real social issues and a movement that has already sparked some change but is still ongoing in its fight for justice. Howard’s comments coming from a veteran who has a high chance of winning his first NBA championship this season really shows the gravity of the moment and that many players consider their role in this fight as much more crucial than their profession.
We obviously can’t blame any player for feeling that way and it is inspiring to see them have these tough discussions and make a stand, regardless of what decision eventually comes to fruition. On one hand, Irving and Howard are not wrong to question whether the distraction of sports would take away from the coverage of more important topics while also limiting the players’ abilities to be true leaders in their communities like so many have by protesting or bringing more awareness to ongoing issues. On the other hand, there is also some credence to the thought that a return to basketball could give players even more of a platform to voice frustrations and be galvanizing forces in this fight. That’s in line with Lakers’ star LeBron James’ own thinking. There is also the very real and quantitative issue of finances with the league having already lost a lot of money due to the Coronavirus pandemic and how much more it stands to lose if players refuse to return to the court. That, of course, is a bigger issue to players who have not made the sort of money that Irving and Howard, among other stars, have made in their careers.
At the end of the day, there is no clear correct decision at this point. But if a sizable portion of the NBA community believes that it is their responsibility to forego basketball in order to impact much bigger issues both locally and nationally, then it would be our responsibility to listen and understand. As much as we want basketball back, we are at a historical crossroads that could spark many overdue changes that could make our country and world a better place to live in for everyone, as Dwight Howard pointed out. If giving up basketball for a season is the price to pay for that, I, for one, am all for it.