Moore: Despite Concerns, Challenges and Fears, the NBA’s Resumption Plan Rolls On
Photo credit: Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Kyrie Irving
The NBA’s return is now a downhill train, breaking through and brushing past a number of obstacles, ranging from a growing COVID-19 outbreak in the state of Florida to a wide range of concerns from the players and the NBPA to the ongoing logistical challenges of pulling this off.
Here’s a look at where we are now and where we’re going.
THE UNION DISPUTE
The drama over the last week has been centered around Kyrie Irving, a Vice President of the NBPA who brought concerns about the NBA returning in this moment of social justice to the forefront, eventually hosting a call for players to voice their concerns.
There were original projections of 200 players joining that call last Friday. Ultimately, 80 players joined, which is still a pretty big number in terms of representing the union.
The players represented a range of concerns about the league’s plan for return, but the main point of contention is whether or not it’s appropriate to return to basketball in light of the ongoing protests in support of Black Lives Matter against police brutality and systemic racism.
Irving has become the lightning rod for criticism, particularly from Kendrick Perkins (a former teammate in Cleveland), now a commentator for ESPN:
But the reality is that Irving isn’t alone in this. Dwight Howard has also been vocal about his reticence in returning.
Avery Bradley has been outspoken on the issue as well, and has more clearly defined what the goals of the players should be with regard to the league on this issue:
“The actual act of sitting out doesn’t directly fight systemic racism,” Bradley said. “But it does highlight the reality that without black athletes, the NBA wouldn’t be what it is today. The league has a responsibility to our communities in helping to empower us — just as we have made the NBA brand strong.”
Bradley said that if the NBA does have plans to organize league-wide action, those proposals haven’t been clearly communicated to players.
“Don’t put all of the weight on your players to take care of the issue,” Bradley said. “If you care about us, you can’t remain silent and in the background.”
Lou Williams has also been reticent about playing in the current environment, while still stating he hasn’t said he won’t play.
But sources told The Action Network this week that the conversations in the NBPA are diverse in their concerns. While the players seem to agree broadly on the importance of addressing the problems both internally in the NBA and broadly across society with systemic racism and police brutality, there are concerns from the players more individually.
Several young players are up for their rookie extensions in the offseason, and both the uncommon circumstances of the return to play and playoffs and the increased risk of COVID-19 contraction have prompted players to look into possible options for insurance.
Donovan Mitchell was outspoken regarding the risks posed to those players on the call, sources said.
Other players are more concerned with the circumstances of the “bubble” in Orlando, where the season will resume. There’s a reason that the memo sent to players this week outlined a host of entertainment and food options, attempting to present the accommodations as lavishly as possible.
This is a real concern from some players given the length of time they’ll be within the bubble if their team goes deep into the playoffs.
These concerns are not discussed as forcefully or treated as important as either the social justice or health safety issues, sources said, but they are part of the broader conversation.
COVID-19’S EVER-PRESENT SHADOW
The league has done what it can to try to provide answers for player questions regarding health and safety. The 108-page handbook obtained by The Action Network outlines a huge number of procedures for how safety will be handled. The NBA is pursuing every possible consideration to try to limit infection.
For example, this is from the handbook’s section on required individual workouts in early July:
As with each use of a team’s training or practice equipment, team staff must clean and disinfect the basket stanchion system (including the padding), backboard, and rim if they are touched during a player’s individual workout.
The amount of testing the players will undergo for the next two months and beyond is a little mind-boggling: They’ll have pulse oximeters, temperature checks and voluntary saliva tests for a study being conducted — on top of all the other testing being done.
It’s no wonder the players are concerned given the amount of added stress and hassle they’re facing regarding these issues.
Meanwhile, Florida is seeing all-time highs in both positive test cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19. There’s still another three weeks before players are set to arrive in Orlando.
Maybe the situation will be better. Maybe it will be worse. But if the situation does change dramatically for the worse, that’s going to make it even more difficult for the NBA to press on, even if everyone’s on board — and especially if the Governor has to change restrictions on the aggressive re-open plan the state has pursued.
THE MONEY TRAIN ROLLS ON
And yet, despite all these challenges, no one associated with the NBA who spoke with The Action Network over the past two weeks has expressed any real concern over whether the restart will occur.
The player concerns are real, and it is very likely some players elect to sit out to continue protest efforts both in support of Black Lives Matter and against police brutality and systemic racism.
The risks for infection are real, and given the positive tests for both the Alabama and University of Houston football teams, it seems inevitable that there will be positive tests for COVID-19 within the Disney NBA bubble.
But the money is just too great for the players, owners and league to walk away. The train rolls on as July 30 and the resumption of games grows ever closer.