The NBA has mapped out its return to action this summer with 22 teams gearing up to head to Orlando for postseason play. However, several players across the league are becoming increasingly hesitant to return to the game while national protests against police brutality and racial inequality consume much of the country.
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving has led discussions within the league about not resuming play amid the national unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. Irving held a conference call last week with fellow athletes throughout the NBA and WNBA regarding their stance on racial injustices and returning to the game.
“I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving said during the call, via The Athletic. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit … Something smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.”
Irving also called out tiered privileges within the NBA, reportedly saying that the league has “only 20 guys actually getting paid,” and players should “not pretend there’s not a tiered system purposely to divide” them.
Although the star has been vocal against returning to play, he told the nearly 80 other players on the call that if the majority of the NBA Players Association – of which he serves as vice president – agreed that play should resume, Irving would be supportive. However, Irving is not alone in his stance. Lakers star Dwight Howard has dismissed the season’s resumption as a “distraction” that is unnecessary.
“I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA Championship,” Howard said in a statement, via CNN. “But the unity of My People would be an even bigger Championship, that’s just to [sic] 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.”
Former NBA star Stephen Jackson – who was close friends with Floyd – offered his take on social media. Jackson argued that games returning would take the attention away from vital issues currently being focused on and also called out white leadership within the league for not taking action during the unrest.
“I love the NBA man, that’s my family. But now ain’t the time to be playing basketball, now ain’t the time,” Jackson said. “Playing basketball’s gonna do one thing: take all the attention off the task at hand, what we’re fighting for. Everybody’s gonna be worrying about the playoffs, they’ll have all of that plastered all over the TV and nobody’s gonna be talking about getting justice for all these senseless murders by the police, and nobody’s gonna be focusing on the task at hand.
“None of these white owners have spoken up,” he added. “None of them are taking a stand. Yeah, they might post a video when the season starts saying what we should do, but they ain’t doing nothing. Playing basketball ain’t going to do nothing but make them money and take the attention of what we’re fighting for, what we’re marching for. It’s bigger than all of us, and it’s bigger than the game.”
The league is still weeks away from its return and has mapped out October 12 as a tentative date to complete the NBA Finals.