On Friday night, word leaked that Lakers center Dwight Howard was among several Lakers who had joined with Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving and other players to say that they think the NBA should cancel the season to keep the nation’s focus on police brutality, systemic racism and the fight for social justice.
Howard’s agent gave a statement confirming the 15-year veteran’s position to Jill Martin of CNN, and within it Howard explained his position, saying that as much as he wants to win his first title, he has bigger goals in mind than basketball achievements right now:
“I agree with Kyrie (Irving). Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction. Sure it might not distract us the players, but we have resources at hand majority of our community don’t have. And the smallest distraction for them, can start a trickle down effect that may never stop. Especially with the way the climate is now. 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. What better time than now for us to be focusing on our families?
“This is a rare opportunity that, I believe, we as a community should be taking full advantage of. When have we ever had this amount of time to sit and be with our families? This is where our Unity starts. At home! With Family!! European Colonization stripped us of our rich history, and we have yet to sit down and figure us out. The less distractions, the more we can put into action into rediscovering ourselves. Nations come out of families. Black/African American is not a Nation or Nationality. It’s time Our Families became their own Nations. No Basketball till we get things resolved.”
Irving, Howard and the other still-anonymous Lakers not the only NBA players to feel this way. Former Laker and current Clippers guard Lou Williams also said publicly on Saturday that resuming the season would be “a distraction” that potentially kept societal change from continuing to happen.
But not every player agrees with them. Lakers guard Danny Green told Mark Medina of USA Today that he believes that players can use the platform of the season to make their voices heard, something teammate LeBron James has also made clear he agrees with.
Meanwhile, Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers put out a lengthy statement of his own on Instagram, arguing that players could use the money and platform they’d get from playing out the season to continue to further the Black Lives Matter movement:
“Us coming back would put money in all of our (NBA players’) pockets,” Rivers continued. “With this money you could help out even more people and continue to give more importantly your time and energy towards the BLM movement. Which I’m 100% on board with. Because change needs to happen and injustice has been going on too long.”
There would be consequences to both outcomes. As Howard, Williams and Irving voiced concern with, the NBA returning would help things feel more business-as-usual again, and potentially make some people who might otherwise be focused on fighting injustices a distraction to be comfortable with again. The benefits of not having that may go beyond economics, and are a lot more nebulous and unpredictable given that we’ve literally never experienced anything exactly like a widespread social justice movement amid a distraction-less, pandemic-fueled hellscape like this before.
However, the NBA not resuming would have consequences too. For one, the league would likely tear up the Collective Bargaining Agreement and force a lockout, cutting off players’ paychecks at a time when they have less leverage than ever, and potentially allowing team owners to force through an even less advantageous CBA in its place.
In addition, the NBA not recouping any money from this lost season — in addition to all the Chinese revenue it lost in the wake of the Daryl Morey situation in August — would in all likelihood trigger layoffs of employees at various teams around the league. Long-term, it could end up hurting local businesses that rely on game revenue if next season gets impacted as well. And I would be being disingenuous and unethical if I didn’t also admit that, self-servingly, it would create a difficult situation for nearly all of sports media too, and in an industry that is already being racked by layoffs, buyouts and furloughs across various companies, things would get even tougher.
None of this is to say that players are necessarily obligated to care about any of the above. Their only duty is to do what they think is morally right, and best for them and their communities. I can’t say for certain what that is, and I’m not sure anyone who’s not in their shoes can.
For now, all I do know is that I have immense respect for Howard and all the other players who came out and put their names to this stuff so we don’t have to hear it from anonymous leaks. Whatever one thinks of either side’s position, that takes conviction, and they should be applauded for taking a stand and using their platform to advocate for what they believe in. Moving forward, we’ll see how many players are in each camp, and if there are enough that don’t want to play to truly put the season resuming on schedule in jeopardy.