It still appears as though the NBA will eventually restart with the Lakers and 21 other teams heading to Disney World, but a coalition of players — led by Kyrie Irving and Lakers guard Avery Bradley, which counts Dwight Howard as a member — called for “further examination” of the restart plan over the last week, and during that time, we’ve slowly learned more and more about what their goals are.
Howard has said that while he doesn’t think the NBA should come back because of the distraction it would create, the players that feel like him aren’t trying to cancel the season and will support those that choose to go to Orlando. For his part, Bradley has said that the coalition just has questions about the restart, and want to see a real, tangible commitment to social justice from the NBA before they agree to resume.
The Lakers were initially worried that Howard would sit out, but his agent says he hasn’t made a decision yet. The latest reporting is that the team is pretty sure Howard will participate, but is “less clear” on if Bradley will do so.
Whatever those two decide to do, Bradley made it clear in an interview with ESPN that the coalition is more than aware that simply sitting out doesn’t help with advocacy efforts on its own. However, what he says it does highlight is the partnership the players have with the league, and how both entities should be trying to make a difference here, not just the players:
“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 player to take care of the issue,” Bradley said. “If you care about us, you can’t remain silent and in the background.”
Bradley is absolutely correct, and to that end, the Lakers actually appeared to take some steps in the right direction on Thursday, hiring the franchise’s first ever Director of Racial Equality and Action and announcing that they would make Juneteenth a paid holiday for their employees. But the team and league can’t (and almost surely won’t) stop there, because Bradley is making completely legitimate points.
The (mostly white) NBA ownership groups putting almost all of the onus on the (mostly black) player base to help the Black Lives Matter movement just wouldn’t be a great look. Especially not when — as Rachel Nichols of ESPN pointed out on Twitter — those same ownership groups with vastly more resources than the players (and who profit directly off of their labor) are sometimes not putting their money where their mouth is when they claim to care about their players:
NBA owners are among the richest men & women in America. That money buys incredible influence, could fund entire programs. And in some cases right now, some team owners are giving money to causes/political groups that directly conflict with the causes players are fighting for. pic.twitter.com/QzAvX2d9bK— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) June 17, 2020
The NBA, NBPA and this coalition of players will continue to try and figure out if they’re going to resume the season or not, and as can be seen by the Lakers’ latest hire, this effort on Bradley, Irving, Howard and others’ part has already started to shift momentum in the league in a positive direction. The next step is the NBA more directly committing to use this restart in Orlando to make the kind of financial commitment to fighting the type of systemic racism that this group of players is fighting against, rather than continuing to put the pressure solely on the players to make a difference.
When (and if) things get to that point, the season actually tipping off on June 30 will seem like far more of a certainty.