After a 72-hour whirlwind of player protests, postponed playoffs, heated fixtures and far-reaching major decisions, basketball will resume on Saturday, the league and its players said in a joint statement on Friday afternoon.
But unlike last month, when the NBA successfully went through a global pandemic to debut at its temporary home on the Walt Disney World campus after a hiatus of more than four months, this return does not appear to be cause for celebration. . It is with a heavy heart and mixed feelings that this unprecedented 2019-20 campaign continues.
The players’ strike was in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake – an unarmed 29-year-old black man – by police in Wisconsin last Sunday. The Milwaukee Bucks were the first to act – opting out of Game 5 of their first-round series against the Magic – followed by the other five teams scheduled to play on Wednesday, and then ultimately the rest of the league. players.
The ongoing fight for social justice had been a focus since arriving in Orlando for the reboot, but the concern of players was that the initiatives – the Black Lives Matter message, kneeling during anthems, etc. – in place began to lose their impact. It was a more drastic way of demanding change – real and meaningful change.
For those who were skeptical of what, if anything, a player strike would accomplish, consider what it did in a matter of days.
First, it turned heads, garnered attention, and transcended the sport in a way that court decals, t-shirt messages, and even anthem protests could never do. This sparked a movement in professional sports, with players from other leagues skipping and canceling matches or events.
More importantly, it’s already forced the hand of NBA owners and government officials. In their joint post, the NBA and NBAPA announced three new initiatives that were agreed to in the last few days of meetings and negotiations.
1. They agreed to create a coalition for social justice, which will include representatives of players, coaches and team governors. It will focus on issues related to voting, civic engagement, and police and criminal justice reform.
2. Where possible, Team Governors are committed to working with local election officials to convert team arenas into voting locations for the 2020 US General Election.
3. The league will work with players and network partners to create commercials in each playoff game that will foster greater civic engagement.
In addition, it was announced Friday that the Wisconsin legislature, which has been adjourned since April and was not expected until the November election, will meet again on Monday to address the Blake shooting – one of the conditions for the walkout. Bucks.
While there is still some way to go, and these are only action plans, they are not trivial first steps. This is also the reason why the players finally reunited and agreed to resume the season, despite many of them initially campaigning to pack it up and go home.
After all they sacrificed – abandoning their families and communities during the pandemic and in a time of social unrest – and all the work they did to get there, they were not going to leave it in vain. In the NBA bubble, they have a platform to talk to the world. Now the hope is that more people are listening.
However, the question remains: how are the players, who have been so deeply affected by the events of the past week, supposed to shift gears and refocus on the basketball court and play meaningful postseason games? over the next few days?
For the first time since the start of the protests, the 13 teams left in the bubble were to train on Friday. The Toronto Raptors were the first to show up on the field at 10 a.m., although it’s not really known how much they got to practice.
The Raptors – who will now announce their second-round streak against Boston at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday – were also supposed to be the first to speak out publicly in the wake of the protests, but were one of many clubs – including Miami. , Milwaukee and Boston – to cancel their media availability session.
Head coach Nick Nurse was originally scheduled to speak to the media. The team have told their players that they are all welcome to speak, if they feel comfortable, but they won’t have to. In the end, they decided to forgo the session altogether, citing the well-being of the team and that they wanted to wait until there was more clarity on the situation (the statement from the NBA and the NBPA had not yet been published).
This is completely understandable, given the circumstances. The Raptors have been leaders in the fight for social justice – not just this week but for months. Still, it’s not for them to be the voice of the league, especially after several players – Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and Pascal Siakam – has already given long and emotional interviews earlier in the week. They also shouldn’t feel overwhelmed for being the ones to return the basketball conversation.
As Clippers coach Doc Rivers said on Friday, “It’s not the NBA’s job to solve the world. It’s the job of the NBA to be part of the world. ”
Still, players know they have a responsibility to use their platform to contribute to change, and after taking a historic stand and making a monumental statement this week, they’ve decided the best way to do it is to keep playing. This doesn’t mean that it will be easy to divide their focus between the sport they enjoy and something much more important.