Weeks after the NBA and Players Association’s agreement on a return to play plan at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving began voicing concerns about basketball serving as a distraction to social justice issues that are sweeping the United States.
Shortly after, Irving — along with Los Angeles Lakers teammates Avery Bradley and Dwight Howard — set up a conference call with players around the league who felt the same way. It was then that some players agreed that playing games right now would only help to create an interruption to ongoing protests surrounding racial injustice.
Bradley was one of the players urging to think of the long term effects of the decision not to play, but still agreed that the NBA cannot be a distraction. Bradley has not only raised concerns, he’s taking on a bit of a leadership role with the players’ coalition, per Adrian Wojnarowski and Malika Andrews of ESPN:
Irving and Bradley, two of a number of veteran players who have taken expanded roles in organizing player conference calls in the past week, believe they’re providing a voice for those players who fear retribution if they openly voice their concerns, sources told ESPN.
Irving, Bradley and the coalition of players want to pursue some concerns further with the league, sources said, including: the investment of resources and ideas of all league constituencies — from the commissioner’s office, ownership level, management and the players’ association — in social justice reform.
While Irving’s message has remained about canceling the rest of the season, he has said on multiple occasions that compromises can be made. If there is a way to fight for justice while playing games, Irving, Bradley and a number of the players in the coalition would likely be on board.
The problem is that no matter what the league does outside of the games, the results themselves would provide an alternative thing to talk about. Even if before and after every game, a player made a social justice statement and donates some amount of money, that may still remain a footnote.
On the flip side, NBA players like Irving and Bradley will not be able to solve racial divides in the U.S. in a few months. It’s a fight that could take years or even longer. So if restarting the 2019-20 season is a distraction, the same can be said of the 2020-21 season and ensuing ones after that.
There is no perfect answer, but it seems Irving is committed to doing his job as vice president of the Players Association and speaking on behalf of those who feel voiceless right now. Their message hasn’t fallen on deaf ears, either, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver expressed confidence common ground will be found.