Earlier this morning, I covered some of the updated timelines that have leaked about the NBA plan for the Lakers and 21 other teams to resume the season in a “bubble” in Disney World. In that story, I wrote “it’s hard to see the season getting cancelled at this point, no matter how much both sides posture about various issues.”
Almost two hours later, it does seem as though the season is at least somewhat in jeopardy. It all started when Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports dropped a story about communication issues within the National Basketball Players Association, including details about how many players were not showing up for meetings with their reps, while others felt like their voices weren’t being heard on several issues:
Yahoo Sources: Significant number of players disappointed their voice wasn’t heard in decision to restart season, and others believe black players sequestered to entertain and ease league’s economic burden amid racial tension is bad optics. https://t.co/F4BiqWD6uQ pic.twitter.com/hhw8rGdLh8— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) June 12, 2020
It’s a must-read for context on what is going on around the league, but especially for this quote from an especially wordplay-inclined anonymous player:
“What message are we sending by agreeing to this during this time?” a black player told Yahoo Sports. “We’re out here marching and protesting, and yet we all leave our families in these scary times and gather to perform at a place where the owners won’t be at? What type of sense does that make? We’ll be going backwards. That place isn’t that magical.”
Still, that was just one report, and didn’t seem to indicate on its own that the season was in jeopardy. However, not long after, it was followed by a deluge of updates from Howard Beck and Taylor Rooks of Bleacher Report, and at this point, it does seem there is at the very least a hiccup in negotiations here, as a faction of players (led by Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, who we should note will be sitting out of Orlando either way) are clearly torn on whether or not to resume the season:
MORE: I've spoken to multiple players, about 5 days ago there was a zoom call of about 50 players discussing what they can do to take a stand. They are planning another call tonight with about 150 players to solidify what that stand is and stress this only works if they unify. https://t.co/FsklmAiD1I— Taylor Rooks (@TaylorRooks) June 12, 2020
There's growing concern re NBA's bubble plan. Players want more freedom of movement while in Orlando. One agent estimates that 2/3 of the top 40 would refuse to play under the proposed restrictions. https://t.co/IrM5MHPu5e— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) June 12, 2020
As @TaylorRooks, @HowardBeck reports, Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving has organized a call tonight for players to discuss what position they should take. He’s of mindset that during racial tension, not returning to play should be considered, sources say. https://t.co/8W8VaZMxQh— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) June 12, 2020
To sum everything up:
So right now:— Rohan Nadkarni (@RohanNadkarni) June 12, 2020
-The NBA hasn’t finalized health and safety standards for Orlando
-COVID cases are rising in Florida though the state continues to reopen
-Most NBA players didn’t vote on the return
-Disney workers will not be strictly tested, can enter/exit the bubble
And to add to everything, at around the same time all this was coming out, players themselves were beginning to publicly question the restrictions they’d be under, specifically in relation to the report that Disney resort staffers would not be quarantining in the bubble like players are supposed to be:
— Joe Ingles (@Joeingles7) June 12, 2020
Bubble with a couple holes in it— Joe Ingles (@Joeingles7) June 12, 2020
It’s clear from all this that the players have a variety of issues and concerns here. For one, it’s worth noting that coronavirus cases are spiking in the area where Disney World is, making the safety of any plan not having staffers quarantine as well dubious at best. But getting people who don’t make nearly the salaries of NBA employees to separate from their families for months is a huge ask, and may not be tenable for Disney to make work with its employees (or maybe it will, who knows).
But aside from that, it’s clear that while some players — like NBPA board member and Irving’s Nets teammate, Garret Temple — believe that playing right now is the right call, it’s also obvious that many players don’t want to play for a variety of reasons, be they the racial tensions in the country, or just not wanting to be inconvenienced by bubble restrictions.
Concerns about the latter have been plain for a while, with Lakers center JaVale McGee calling the restrictions “concerning” in a recent interview, and from reading between the lines of what many players have said publicly about the virus and the bubble, it’s hard not to see their issues as having more to do with the inconvenience of staying in the “bubble” and the message that returning to play would send than any fear of contracting coronavirus.
A lot of players don’t want to be “contained” in the bubble w/out their families/friends— Harrison Sanford (@HarrisonSanford) June 12, 2020
Ideal world: Players can bring friends & family from the start instead of waiting until end of 1st round. In this case, family/friends would get tested daily to ensure bubble health.
The message regarding a return to play is a philosophical debate, and not necessarily fixable in any season-resumption scenario, but the issue of restrictions is potentially worrying if it leads to negotiations that further loosen protocol when you already have coaches (many of whom are older and thus likely more susceptible to complications from COVID-19) who don’t want to be limited in their participation, either.
However, as Dan Woike of the L.A. Times noted, all these things aren’t necessarily binary concerns:
FWIW - You can be a NBA player who is concerned about the safety of a return to play and uneasy with the restrictions in movement/isolation a return to play could cause.— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) June 12, 2020
It’s not clear where this goes from here, other than that the players union has some internal reckoning to deal with before it can continue to negotiate with the league over a return to play with any level of credibility. There would also be a ton of potentially bad, unintended consequences of not resuming the season, which are well summarized in this Twitter thread. Players will have to consider all of it when they have their call tonight.
And the day is still young, so we may get many more Friday news dumps yet. Buckle up, because the only thing that’s certain right now is that these negotiations just got a lot more ugly and public, with every side involved ready to sling some mud and make their opposition look bad. We’ll see if that leads to everyone coming back to the table to figure this out, or further jeopardizes any plans to finish the 2019-20 campaign.