On Friday night, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving spearheaded a conference call for players to share any concerns they had about the current state of negotiations between their union and the NBA regarding the proposed plan to restart the season. Veteran center Dwight Howard was one of a few players to speak up, and he reportedly wasn’t the only member of the Lakers to do so.
Shams Charania of the Athletic published a deeply reported breakdown of what was said on the call, and included within it was the detail that while LeBron James still wants to finish the season, Howard isn’t his only teammate to think that players should at least consider the alternative:
Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that Lakers star LeBron James and a group of athletes and entertainers, including Hawks guard Trae Young, are starting a new group called “More Than A Vote” to support voters’ rights. Although multiple Lakers players are part of the movement to sit out as a measure against social injustice, James is not involved in the coalition that wants to sit out games.
For what it’s worth, James also pretty clearly isn’t the only player to feel the way he does. Kyle Kuzma tweeted “some of us want to hoop and compete” in response to reports of players not wanting to play, a sentiment teammate Jared Dudley seemed to co-sign.
We don’t know who among the other players supports the idea of sitting out to focus on combating systemic racism in the United States — and to not give people a distraction from reckoning with those issues — but it is potentially worth noting that Rajon Rondo did publicly admit that he thinks players should be cautious about their health, and not assume they’ll be fine if they get the coronavirus, just because they’re in peak condition. Between him and Howard, these concerns are justifiable and wide-ranging.
If any Lakers (or other NBA players) do sit out and the NBA goes forward with the season anyway, their team will be allowed to replace them during an upcoming transaction window, and Charania reports that the players may not lose their paychecks, depending on a few factors:
According to sources, the players’ union said on a call Monday that “any player who doesn’t want to play, doesn’t have to” with no financial loss, as long as said player has an agreement with his franchise and/or a medical excuse. Sources said commissioner Adam Silver reiterated that sentiment on Thursday’s call with 30 general managers, making it clear that those who do not want to come to the Orlando bubble, do not have to.
Look, I understand that some people are going to be upset about this. You’re very likely not reading a niche Lakers blog during a season stoppage because you don’t want them to finish out this potential title run. We all miss the game, and watching this awesome team.
Even so, we should try to be empathetic here. The players who are thinking about things through this lens not only feel they’re making the best decision possible to combat the systemic racism that’s been so deeply harmful to both the current state of this country and their individual communities, but also taking a potentially big financial risk to do so. If the NBA doesn’t return, the league can enact the “force majeure” provision of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and tear up the CBA, potentially costing these players their jobs and possibly changing the league’s economic structure in ways we can’t predict moving forward.
Their commitment also doesn’t make James and any players who want to play bad people for desiring to continue the season. James is as active as any player in fighting against causes that adversely affect black people, recently starting up an organization to combat voter suppression and make a positive change in the U.S. It is a near certainty that he and many of his peers would have some sort of demonstration planned to raise awareness of these social justice issues when they take the court again.
What this comes down to is a difference in philosophy of how best to go about enacting the change they all desire. Will giving everyone the distraction of sports back negatively hurt the political momentum that the Black Lives Matter movement has built, and take away some of the focus on those causes? Or would demonstrating in games that everyone will likely be watching force the issue in the faces of even more people on the fence?
I don’t know the answer, and the players don’t know it for certain, either. But while they sort it out, I’m not going to sit here and judge any of them for one choice or another as it pertains to issues that they’re clearly passionate about.