The NBA has approved the format for a 22-team return to action at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Florida. But there are still concerns.
Of course, preventing the spread of coronavirus amidst a global pandemic is a prominent focus of these conversations. There are still a ton of questions to be answered about how the league will account for social distancing while on the campus as well as who will be allowed in and out of the bubble.
However, one of the issues that players have been discussing before a potential return is that resuming play would shift the public’s attention from systemic racism to “who did what in the game last night,” per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Dan Woike noted this as well, explaining the implications of a potential return (via LA Times):
“According to multiple players, agents and executives, the belief is that the season is not in serious peril – not yet, at least. But fueled by several concerns, perhaps most prominently that a return to play would serve as a distraction from the Black Lives Matter movement and steps toward racial equality and police reform, there are players considering the possibility of not returning when the season reconvenes.”
Meanwhile, Woj added that players have already lost around $300 million in salary and canceling the remainder of the season would forfeit an additional 25 percent, potentially raising that up to $1.2 billion in lost salary, which was echoed by ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
Reports have indicated that the NBPA determined that if a player does not want to play, they can sit out without financial loss so long as they have excused the absence with their team.
With so much at stake, it is no surprise to learn that there was a Zoom call with around 50 players on June 7 to discuss the season restart, per Taylor Rooks, followed up by the most recent call.
WHAT WAS THE MOST RECENT CALL ABOUT?
One call, which was led by Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, was organized for Friday evening.
Most reporting suggests that even though Irving said he was against going to Orlando, he would “ultimately stand with the group” on their decision. This is aligned with reporting from Wojnarowski (via ESPN):
“Several players who have participated in these recent calls and conversations told ESPN that they’re still leaning toward playing in Orlando but want to keep listening and talking about a number of the factors that concern them.”
WHO WAS ON THE MOST RECENT CALL?
Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck estimated nearly 200 players were expected on the Friday evening call.
According to Charania, the following players dialed in on Friday (via The Athletic):
Chris Paul (Oklahoma City Thunder), Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets), Carmelo Anthony (Portland Trail Blazers), Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz), Malcolm Brogdon (Indiana Pacers), CJ McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers), Justin Holiday (Indiana Pacers), Rudy Gay (San Antonio Spurs), Spencer Dinwiddie (Brooklyn Nets), Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings), Al-Farouq Aminu (Orlando Magic), Tobias Harris (Philadelphia 76ers), Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors), Mike Conley (Utah Jazz), Zach Collins (Portland Trail Blazers), Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers).
Marc Stein added that 2017 NBA MVP Russell Westbrook was among the more prominent voices to speak out.
Los Angeles Lakers wing Danny Green, who is the player rep for the team, told USA TODAY’s Mark Medina that he tried to get on the call but was unable to join.
As noted by The Athletic’s Sam Amick, an “invitation was sent to the entire playing body” and only 80-plus players joined. That is only a small portion of the NBA represented.
HOW DID THE CALL GO?
Woj spoke to one player who joined, who summarized a bit of what he heard (via ESPN):
“He’s trying to give players a platform to be able to have a discussion – on the bubble, racial equality and unity… It’s a good call.”
According to Charania, the second person to speak after Irving on the call was Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley. He was “vocal throughout” and urged players to take a stand.
McCollum reportedly urged his peers to remember that there may be a severe “financial dip” if they do not play and that owners could potentially rip up the collective bargaining agreement, which could lead to a lockout next season.
Some of the players who spoke about potentially not playing, per Charania, were Dwight Howard (Los Angeles Lakers), Mitchell and Anthony. Howard feared that playing would be a “distraction” from productive conversations that the country is currently having.
However, Amick reported that LeBron James does not feel that playing would “deter his ability” to inspire change.
Mitchell reportedly feared that NBA players would be “behind the 8-ball” if they were forced to jump back into such a competitive environment after not playing five-on-five basketball due to quarantine. Mitchell tested positive for coronavirus on March 12, 2020. He is reportedly worried about potentially injuring himself and missing an opportunity to sign a max contract extension.
According to Haynes, both Mitchell and Orlando Magic big Mo Bamba are “intimidated to voice an opinion” if it was not the same as the superstars. But this inspired Anthony to call upon the younger voices throughout the call.
As a showing of unity, which seemed to be the primary focus and takeaway, Anthony reportedly suggested that each player on the call donate $25,000 to charity.
Mitchell (as well as other top talents up for contract extensions including Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox, Kyle Kuzma and Bam Adebayo) are now seeking league-financed insurance policies in case of injury, per Woj.
HoopsHype made an effort to reach out to several folks who may have been on the call. One player told HoopsHype that the players all agreed not to talk to the media.
When asked by HoopsHype if they thought the recent conversations will ultimately shut the season down, all prominent agents that spoke believed that the NBA will be back as planned.
Ultimately, the mood seems to be that cooler heads will prevail and the season will resume. There are simply too many financial barriers to jump over as a consequence if it does not.
HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy contributed reporting to this article
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