NBA commissioner Adam Silver plans to listen for now, but he expects the league to address all player concerns before games resume in Orlando next month.
Silver said he has a sense that players and the league should be able to “work through most of those issues over the next few weeks,” when asked Monday night about how the NBA is handling concerns over the optics of playing during the Black Lives Matter movement as well as health and safety matters around the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s not an ideal situation,” Silver said regarding a series of issues the NBA is facing in an appearance on Monday night’s “The Return of Sports” special on ESPN. “We are trying to find a way to our own normalcy in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of essentially a recession or worse with 40 million unemployed, and now with enormous social unrest in the country.
“And so as we work through these issues, I can understand how some players may feel, that it’s not for them ... it may be for family reasons, it may be for health reasons they have, or it may be because they feel -- as some players have said very recently -- that their time is best spent elsewhere.”
A coalition of players including Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving has held a series of players-only calls and also communicated concerns to the league regarding how to use the NBA platform to continue the BLM movement -- and not detract from it while playing.
Late Tuesday afternoon, ESPN reported that the coalition wants to see a detailed plan on how the NBA and its sponsors plan to address issues of importance to the black community before the restart in Orlando.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley, one of the coalition leaders along with Irving, detailed to ESPN a number of issues the players want more details on, including improving hiring practices for black head coaches and front-office management, donations to organizations serving black communities, and partnerships with black-owned businesses and arena vendors.
“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 into the works.”
Bradley also addressed the issue regarding whether players sitting or playing better helps the coalition’s cause.
“I agree (the) Orlando (restart) will give the players checks to contribute back into their communities,” Bradley told ESPN. “But how much of that bubble check are players actually able to contribute? Why (is) all of the responsibility being put on the players?”
That was part of the reasoning behind the insistence that “all those who have more financial power than (players), but aren’t taking a bigger stance when our community needs you” provide more economic assistance to the black community, Bradley said.
The NBA has been on hiatus since March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic. BLM protests opposing racial injustice and police brutality -- many with NBA players present -- have spanned the country and traveled around the globe since the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25.
Silver said he understands precisely where players are coming from and supports their approach. He’s discussed ways the NBA can assist in forwarding social justice reform.
“The social unrest in the country was -- in the same way we never could have predicted the pandemic would unfold, in the way it has -- what’s happened since George Floyd’s death is also unprecedented,” Silver said. “I’m incredibly sympathetic and empathetic to what’s happening in people’s lives. And in the midst of all that, to say, ‘We’re looking for an opportunity to restart this league, to try to move forward with crowning a champion,’ it’s not top of mind for a lot of people.”
Silver said finding a “uniform” opinion among all players from the 22 teams invited to resume the 2020 NBA season on July 30 won’t likely happen.
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, who also took part in the ESPN “Return of Sports” event, said he gets the differing opinions and supports players using their voices to impact change.
“I can only speak for myself -- but I think it goes for other guys as well -- we are the financial support for our families and for a lot of our community,” Lillard said. “We bring a lot of that financial responsibility to support black businesses in black communities. So it makes a lot of sense for us (to return), from that standpoint. But I think a lot of guys in the league have a point. I think Kyrie and Dwight (Howard) have a point. So I understand it all.”
The Athletic reported Tuesday that NBA players have been notified they must inform their respective teams by June 24 if they don’t intend to play in the resumed season. There will be no discipline for not participating, but compensation would be reduced by 1/92.6 for each game missed, per the report.
--Field Level Media
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