Since a coalition of NBA players led by Lakers and Nets guards Avery Bradley and Kyrie Irving has begun to question whether the NBA restart plan is the best thing for the social justice reform movement currently sweeping the United States, or if basketball would just be a distraction from important changes, there has been a common rebuttal to their points from critics, or those on the other side of the issue: Couldn’t the players just use the platform of a season restart, when nearly everyone is starved for sports, to shine a light on the causes and issues that are important to them?
As someone who has covered the team this year at nearly every practice and game they’ve played, Bradley is someone I quickly realized could always be counted on to give especially thoughtful consideration to questions about the team, and provide candid and honest answers in response. That quality shined through in Bradley’s first public statements since publicly becoming one of the leaders of this players movement, as he outlined what the group of players he and Irving are leading want to see before agreeing to resume the 2019-20 season to Adrian Wojnarowski and Malika Andrews of ESPN:
Bradley expressed support for NBA players wanting to use platforms in Orlando to speak on issues of systemic racism, but said his group believes those efforts would have greater impact with “our owners’ help.”
“Regardless of how much media coverage will be received, talking and raising awareness about social injustice isn’t enough,” Bradley told ESPN. “Are we that self-centered to believe no one in the world is aware of racism right now? That as athletes, we solve the real issues by using our platforms to speak?
“We don’t need to say more. We need to find a way to achieve more. Protesting during an anthem, wearing T-shirts is great, but we need to see real actions being put in to the works.”
This is absolutely a great point on Bradley’s part, and highlights an important distinction. So often this issue has been framed as Bradley, Irving, Howard and the other players with questions as wanting to disrupt the season restart, and Bradley’s statement makes that seem like an overly simplistic interpretation.
Clearly, he and Irving aren’t necessarily trying to stop the season from happening. They have totally legitimate questions about if it’s the best idea in its current form, which is a different thing entirely.
Another argument against Bradley and his camp’s questions, made by Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers, among others, has been that if players don’t play, they’ll lose out on money, money they could use to help the Black Lives Matter movement and other causes that are important to them.
Bradley has a counterpoint to that as well:
The burden of financial donations to black communities disproportionately falls onto players, Bradley said, and hoped that more owners would follow the charitable lead of Dallas’ Mark Cuban and Charlotte’s Michael Jordan in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death last month.
“I agree (the) Orlando (restart) will give the players checks to contribute back into their communities,” Bradley said. “But how much of that bubble check are players actually able to contribute? Why (is) all of the responsibility being put on the players?”
It’s another great question, and these are the type of public statements that can move the discourse forward from “having the season vs. cancelling the season” into the more nuanced territory it should really occupy, since the real debate seems to be: Is there a better way the NBA can do the season? If players get financial commitments from owners to help charity, won’t a slight hiccup in the negotiating have actually been worth it? Rather than arguing over sitting out vs. taking advantage of the platform, isn’t this just a way to improve the platform players are being given, to try something new when simply raising awareness clearly hasn’t made enough change before?
Irving is a polarizing figure in NBA circles, and his position at the forefront of this movement led to some initial jokes and skepticism from fans. But it’s clear from Bradley’s remarks that this group of players, however large it actually is, has totally legitimate questions about the NBA restart. I think they, and all of us, deserve some answers from the NBA, rather than hot takes and judgement from fans (and ridiculous, straw-man counterpoints from some members of the media) about why they’re wrong to oppose basketball. Especially when it seems clear that basketball isn’t actually what they oppose at all.