With America and the world coming together in a unprecedented moment of universal support for Black Lives Matter and rejection of racial injustice, black NBA players are struggling to decide how they should move forward.
At the heart of the decision facing black NBA players is whether to agree to the NBA’s proposed plans to resume play in Orlando beginning July 31st. While some are eager to return playing, others appear to be reluctant. While the NBA has been a poster child for owners and players working together, the lack of agreement about returning to play among the players could threaten both the current season as well as the future of the NBA.
Should enough players decide not to play, the NBA would likely be forced to cancel the season and playoffs, which would inevitably lead to the owners using Force Majeure to terminate the Collective Bargaining Agreement. That would force the owners and player to renegotiate a new CBA and could end up with the league and the players cancelling this season and next season, which would mean massive financial losses for both sides.
Right now, black players seem to be split into multiple groups. Some prominent players like Lakers’ superstar LeBron James sincerely believe playing in Orlando won’t deter their “ability to continue inspiring change.” James, of course, is naturally focused on leading the favored Lakers to their 17th NBA championship and winning his fourth ring so the last thing he wants is to lose that opportunity by having the season cancelled.
Others like Dwight Howard believe “basketball isn’t needed at this moment” and would only distract from progress being made by the protests and “start a trickle-down effect” that could undermine the power of the moment. Howard’s willing to make the sacrifice: “I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA Championship, but the unity of My People would be an even bigger Championship, that’s just too beautiful to pass up.”
The Nets’ Kyrie Irving has taken the narrative to another different level and is outwardly distrustful of the NBA and contends “something smells fishy” about the league’s plans to resume play, which the players should boycott. Irving’s sincerity could be questioned since he’s also currently injured and would not be able to return until next season and enjoys the security of a recently signed lucrative long term contract with the Brooklyn Nets.
There’s also a group who are genuinely concerned about the potential risks of major injury due to returning to play so soon after the long layoff or contracting Covid-19 as a result of playing in the middle of a pandemic. Finally, there are others concerned about the bubble and the stringent rules that will have to be enforced in Orlando to keep players safe and healthy and don’t want to be locked up in isolation for such a long period of time.
There’s so much financially at stake it’s hard to imagine the NBA owners and the various groups of players not being able to find common ground to keep the plans to resume the season in Orlando on schedule as planned. And as monumental as the promise of progress towards racial justice is, black NBA players must ultimately know a basketball hungry fanbase and media provide the best possible platform for promoting their cause.
What’s happening around the country and the world today with the protests and support to end racial injustice and inequity offers black NBA players an opportunity to unite to use their voices to support major change.