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Michele Roberts says players aren’t fighting over whether or not to play, they’re discussing ‘does playing harm a movement that we absolutely, unequivocally embrace?’

National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts clarified what is going on with players in the union right now regarding the NBA restart plan.

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When it was initially reported that Lakers veterans Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley were part of a coalition of NBA players who want “further examination” of the league’s plan to restart the 2019-20 season at Disney World, it was initially framed as though the group (led by Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving) were against having a season at all.

Since then, the players’ own words have made it clear that’s not the case. Bradley says they just want to see a real social justice commitment from the league before resuming the year, while Howard has said he doesn’t want to cancel the season and supports those going to Orlando.

It’s still not 100% clear whether or not either Howard or Bradley will play when the season resumes — they have until June 24 to decide — but it is now plain that them and the other players aligned with them don’t want to stop the season. They just want to make sure it’s happening in the right way.

That’s a distinction that National Basketball Players Association executive director made to Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN as well:

Roberts said players have spent the weekend considering how the league’s return might affect the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It’s not a question of play or not play,” Roberts told ESPN. “It’s a question of, does playing again harm a movement that we absolutely, unequivocally embrace? And then whether our play can, in fact, highlight, encourage and enhance this movement?

“That’s what they’re talking about. They’re not fighting about it; they’re talking about it.”

To that end, Roberts says she’s been talking with players about how they could use their platform to benefit the movement:

For example, Roberts has mentioned to several players that one of the most powerful examples of athletes using their platform to protest and promote social change came in 1968, when American sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised black-gloved fists while on the medal stand at the Summer Olympics.

In order to be on the podium for that iconic moment, Roberts said, both men had to run — and earn a medal in — their 200-meter race.

As such, Roberts said she has urged each player to make his own decision about whether it feels appropriate or comfortable to play, because it is such a personal decision for each player.

Roberts is right that those kinds of gestures can make a difference, but it’s also important to remember that if those moments had fixed everything, there wouldn’t currently be nationwide protests over police brutality and systemic racism.

Bradley recently made it clear that he realizes that sitting out won’t fix anything on its own, either, but that the players he’s helping to have a voice simply want to make sure that the onus isn’t solely being put on them to make a positive change, and that ownership groups and the league itself shoulder some of that burden as well.

To that end, the Lakers took a few steps in the right direction on Thursday, recognizing Juneteenth as a paid holiday for employees and hiring Dr. Karida Brown as the organization’s first ever Director of Racial Equality and Action.

If more teams around the league make gestures like that, and the NBA commits to using the tournament in Orlando to make a real difference as a collective rather than just telling the players to use the platform provided for gestures, it might do a lot of work to bridge the gap between the NBPA, NBA and coalition of players that Bradley and Howard are representing. If that happens, we may just get a season at Disney World, after all.

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