While the NBA and NBPA both nearly unanimously approved the league’s 22-team return to play plan for an Orlando bubble from July through October, there are still plenty of questions that needed to be answered and negotiated by both sides.
Complicating matters beyond just figuring out how to play out the remainder of an 8-game season and then full postseason during a global pandemic are the nationwide protests of police brutality and systemic racism that have been taking place for two-plus weeks following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police in Minneapolis and Louisville. Players spent the weekend having calls and discussing the best ways to ensure that basketball doesn’t become a distraction or escape for people from confronting the problems in this country, with some like Kyrie Irving voicing their concern that playing would take away from the movement.
NBPA executive director Michele Roberts spoke with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne about those calls and explained that it’s not a fight happening internally, but a much needed discussion around whether playing harms or enhances the movement they all embrace.
“It’s not a question of play or not play,” Roberts told ESPN. “It’s a question of, does playing again harm a movement that we absolutely, unequivocally embrace? And then whether our play can, in fact, highlight, encourage and enhance this movement.
“That’s what they’re talking about. They’re not fighting about it; they’re talking about it.”
The positioning of reports has, at times, made it seem as though there’s a growing number of players with large enough concerns to be willing to sit out, but the ESPN report indicates that isn’t really the case. What is important is that the players use this moment to ensure that they are able to take whatever position they want and can make statements to try and, as Roberts says, “highlight, encourage, and enhance this movement” while in Orlando. Given the immense financial pressure on the NBA to return and the PR disaster it would be for them to let things fall apart because they wanted to put limitations on players ability to speak out on such a big issue, the players seem to have ample leverage to push the league to ensure they are able to make whatever statements they deem fit.
These are discussions that needed to happen and maybe should’ve happened prior to the swift vote to approve the return plan format — if for no other reason than the optics, even if false, that there’s sudden dissension internally over a plan that was unanimously approved. Talking as a whole about how to proceed and raising questions and concerns is literally the point of having a union, but it seems there’s optimism from the executive director that they will figure this out and have a plan of their own in place to ensure basketball elevates, rather than pushes down, the Black Lives Matter movement.