Jun 15, 2020 - Sports

NBA players divided on resuming season amid pandemic and protests

Illustration of a basketball with a play button.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The NBA's ambitious plan to resume the season at Walt Disney World hit an impasse over the weekend, with the two crises that have shaken the U.S. — the pandemic and the protests — causing division amongst the ranks.

The state of play: Last week, the NBA's board of governors approved the league's return-to-play plan, followed by the NBA players' association one day later — but a number of players have begun asking themselves: do we actually want to participate in this?

  • A closer look at the NBPA statement shows that the vote was merely an approval of further negotiations and that "various details" still needed to be worked out, notes The Ringer's Paolo Uggetti.

What they're saying: Players have expressed multiple concerns, ranging from visitor policies to Disney staff protocols to Florida's record levels of new COVID-19 cases. But the main issue for some is that a return to play would distract from the nationwide protests over police brutality and systemic racism.

  • Kyrie Irving hosted a Zoom meeting on Friday with over 80 players to discuss the matter. "I'm willing to give up everything I have [for social reform]," he reportedly said on the call.
  • "Once we start playing basketball again, the news will turn from systemic racism to 'who did what' in the game last night," one anonymous player told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

The other side: While some believe playing basketball would detract from the Black Lives Matter movement, others — including LeBron James — believe it would provide them with a megaphone to promote their message.

  • "[LeBron] wants to keep making his mark off the court. He wants to play basketball. And as has always been the case, he clearly believes he can do both at the same time," writes The Athletic's Sam Amick, citing sources close to James (subscription).
  • "We can do both. We can play and we can help change the way black lives are lived," Rockets guard Austin Rivers wrote on Instagram. "But canceling or boycotting [a] return doesn't do that in my opinion."

The bottom line: Would playing basketball take attention away from the more important issues at hand in this country? Or would it provide some of the world's most popular athletes with a platform to inspire change? The fate of the 2020-21 NBA season may depend on the answer to that question.

Go deeper: The NBA's 22-team restart plan

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