UPDATE: The news of Kyrie Irving making this suggestion made it back to Irving, and as it turns out, he’s not all that happy about it. Why? Well, because according to Taylor Rooks of Bleacher Report, Irving never said this, and as a result, he left the team group chat.
Sources tell me that Kyrie Irving never stated that the Nets should begin their own league in response to the bubble.
I'm told that after that report came out, he left the group chat.
— Taylor Rooks (@TaylorRooks) June 17, 2020
Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News ended up clarifying his reporting, saying that Irving suggested this, but not in reference to the NBA’s plans for a bubble league in Orlando.
To be clear on this, Kyrie Irving has proposed to his teammates they should start their own league, and it’s not necessarily in response to the bubble situation. https://t.co/x6pM4Dipc3
— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) June 17, 2020
EARLIER: Kyrie Irving has stepped up over the last week to be the leading voice pushing back against the NBA’s planned restart in the Disney bubble. His chief concern is whether playing basketball and resuming the season would distract from players efforts in social activism amid nationwide protests of racism and police brutality.
The NBA issued a memo to teams noting that they are committed to “create meaningful and generational change” with its restart and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement by working with the NBPA to figure out the best ways to do so. It’s a nice statement, but until a firm plan of action is in place, many will remain understandably skeptical of how significant the league’s contribution will be, whether that’s by a monetary investment that goes towards creating programs both internally and in the community, or in offering its massive platforms to allow players to make the statements they feel are necessary.
Avery Bradley issued a plan he’d like to see the league enact as part of a coalition with Irving before players agree to join the bubble (with a June 24 deadline to do so), but Kyrie seems to be moving full steam ahead on trying to convince players. According to Stefon Bondy of the New York Daily News, Irving “urged” his Nets teammates to skip the bubble in a group chat and also — and this is the part you’ll see discussed for days and weeks — threw out there that the players could leave the NBA and start their own league.
Irving not only led a discussion with close to 100 union members in a conference call, he also urged Nets players to skip the bubble recently in a separate group chat, the Daily News has learned. In that chat, Irving proposed that players could start their own league, according to a source.
As Russ Bengston noted, this isn’t unprecedented talk from a player, as there were whispers of such discussions when the NBA was in a lockout in 1998, but the difference there, of course, is that without a CBA, there are no contracts and, as such, there’s not as much difficulty in breaking them to set off on their own. Right now, there would be a logistical nightmare in doing so, beyond the other issues of creating the infrastructure of a new league and finding places to play and TV deals.
Still, it’d be fascinating to see what a players-led league would look like, even just in how they would structure things, from roster sizes to games played and more. Irving’s proposal, which may have just been a throwaway line in a group text for all we know, will end up being joked about for some time, but the overall point that I think he’s trying to make is that the players have more power in this situation than they may recognize. While I doubt he’s fully thought through the finer points of the difficulties of starting their own league, the reason the NBA is a multi-billion dollar business is because of the players and in this situation, they need to ensure they get the most out of the league on an issue in systemic racism that entities like the NBA often make nice statements about, create a diversity initiative, and donate money before moving on mostly with the status quo intact.
Players need to push for more this time, and Bradley’s plan — which includes calls for better hiring practices to get more Black coaches and executives into the sport as well as the league partnering with more Black-owned business — tries to address those things, along with securing financial commitments for organizations working for the movement.