As the NBA nears the resumption of the 2019-20 season on July 31, a new reality is beginning to emerge. The NBA’s Board of Governors approved a 22-team return format for the season last week, followed by the National Basketball Players Association ratifying it the next day, beginning seemingly inevitable momentum toward a return to play out the conclusion of the season that was halted in March. However, there is now a group of players looking to take a stand by not playing in the league’s intended resumption and their primary reason for doing so would be in support of the nationwide movement fighting for social justice reform.
Sources tell The Athletic that a group consisting of 80-plus players — including NBPA Vice President Kyrie Irving, NBPA president Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Donovan Mitchell and Avery Bradley — discussed finding unity and a way to attack a cause amid the nationwide unrest stemming from racial injustice, systematic racism and police brutality as well as what the world continues to face during the coronavirus pandemic.
Irving and several players on the call, including Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and Donovan Mitchell, spoke out about not supporting the restarted season because of ongoing social injustice, racism and coronavirus concerns, according to sources. Bradley, the Lakers guard, was the second person to speak on the call behind Irving and was vocal throughout, urging players to take a stand and utilize this moment to “play chess, not checkers,” those sources said.
“I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving told the players. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the b-------. … Something smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.”
ESPN reported on Wednesday that players had been on conference calls, discussing a variety of concerns that included conditions inside the Disney World bubble. The Athletic can confirm that was part of the conversation and the growing concern among players, but sources say the chief concern and impetus behind this growing movement surrounds social justice reform. Several notable players started discussions on the movement within the past two weeks, starting with rank-and-file players and supported by the star power of Irving and Durant. It has led to several virtual meetings with many players.
Among the players on the call Friday: Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon, Portland’s CJ McCollum, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Indiana’s Justin Holiday, San Antonio’s Rudy, Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie, Sacramento’s Harrison Barnes, Orlando’s Al-Farouq Aminu, Philadelphia’s Tobias Harris, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Utah’s Mike Conley Jr., Portland’s Zach Collins and Indiana’s Myles Turner. Former NBA player and NBPA executive Roger Mason Jr. was also on the call, sources said.
Over the past several months, the United States has dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, which suspended the NBA season on March 11, followed by protests throughout the country after the May 25 killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. Several NBA players have led protests throughout the nation, such as Boston’s Jaylen Brown, Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon, Golden State’s Curry, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Houston’s Russell Westbrook, San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan and Harris among others.
Paul and Nets guard Garrett Temple, who are with Irving on the NBPA leadership board, provided insights on Friday’s call. Several points were made on the call, according to sources: — Anthony stressed unity, having a sole message and allowing the young players in the NBA a voice. At one point, Anthony suggested having all 80 players on the call donating $25,000 to a cause that they wanted.
— McCollum stated that players must be prepared for the financial dip if they choose not to play, and owners completely ripping apart the collective bargaining agreement. — The NBPA’s leadership stated it is believed no fans will be permitted into games for the entire 2020-21 season. — Howard stressed to players that playing in Orlando will become a distraction from the issues the country is facing, and that they need to unify and use this moment to create a change.
Irving and Bradley have led the communication efforts of this group. Sources said Irving has been extremely vocal on NBPA calls during the suspension of the season, challenging executive director Michele Roberts and president Chris Paul last Friday about what efforts are being made to align the players and league for sponsorship and endorsement money — or whether it should be solely the players’ responsibility. This was Irving’s way of questioning the norms set forth by the NBPA, sources said.
According to sources, the players’ union said on a call Monday that “any player who doesn’t want to play, doesn’t have to” with no financial loss, as long as said player has an agreement with his franchise and/or a medical excuse. Sources said commissioner Adam Silver reiterated that sentiment on Thursday’s call with 30 general managers, making it clear that those who do not want to come to the Orlando bubble, do not have to.
Jeff Goodman: Sources: It was a wide-ranging call with 80 or so NBA players, and multiple voices. Kyrie, CP3, Melo all vocal. One quote from Kyrie: “There’s only 20 guys actually getting paid, and I’m part of that. Let’s not pretend there’s not a tiered system purposely to divide all of us.”
When the National Basketball Players Association conducted a conference call and vote on restarting the season a week ago, Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving was an active participant -- although his questions were of a mundane nature. Sources say Irving asked, as an injured player, if he would count among the Nets' allotted 35 people should he want to join the Orlando bubble. Could he sit in the stands to cheer on his teammates? Use a sauna for his rehab?
He had a question about NBA sponsors on campus, and whether they would be supplying players with products. A union official asked him for an example, and Irving mentioned a popular adult beverage -- before insisting that he had indeed simply shared an example; and wondered what food might be provided to players under league partnerships. All in all, his inquiries weren't of weighty consequence.
There were two dozen-plus team representatives and several more executive committee members on the call, and Irving's stature as one of the NBPA's six elected vice presidents, in addition to his credentials as an NBA champion and All-Star Game MVP, elevated him among those peers voting on the call. The final tally: 28-0.
Looking back, the call itself was much less a discussion on the merits of restarting the season, and much more a Q and A with NBPA executive director Michele Roberts and president Chris Paul on the mechanics and rules expected to govern teams, players and the bubble environment, sources said. So, yes, it surprised several of his NBPA colleagues that Irving -- lost to the season with shoulder surgery in March -- was simultaneously lending his voice to a different discussion with rank-and-file union members on upending the league's plans for a 22-team restart at Disney World in Orlando, sources said.
Irving is expected to be a significant voice on a call Friday night that's predicted to include a large percentage of the league's players, sources said. Irving has been a leader in sharing his thoughts on race and wealth in America, asking how precisely a predominately black group of NBA players should proceed in this climate of racial transformation in the country.
Irving has forged a reputation as a disruptor within his career, and that's emerging again at this crucial moment for the NBA. Irving's stance has pitted him against the league's establishment, including his former Cavaliers teammate LeBron James, once again. There's significant support to resume the season among the league's superstars -- most of whom are on playoff contenders -- and Irving seems to be relishing the clash.
"I'm not as interested in him as the messenger than I am in the message," one Western Conference player told ESPN on Friday. In some instances in the past several days, Irving has assured some in the NBPA that he's aligned with the broader plan surrounding the league's return in Orlando -- and then directed a far more skeptical tone to players he has engaged with within the Nets and across the league, sources said.
In recent days, Irving has been one of the prominent player voices tapping into the hearts, minds and ambitions of his peers in the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody. Players are discussing everything now -- from the limitations of freedom in the proposed bubble, the value of the remaining season for many teams and players, the risk of sickness and injury, and yes, the pain, anguish and determination of communities throughout the country on the issues of police brutality and racial inequality.
While many players are arguing that these discussions benefit from the global stage a resumption of play would offer, with the eyes of the world turning to Orlando, the argument hasn't been so simple for some players. "Once we start playing basketball again, the news will turn from systemic racism to who did what in the game last night. It's a crucial time for us to be able to play and blend that and impact what's happening in our communities," one widely respected NBA player told ESPN. "We are asking ourselves, 'Where and how can we make the biggest impact?' Mental health is part of the discussion too, and how we handle all of that in a bubble."
The limitations of the NBA bubble form a significant part of players' uncertainty too. There appear to be players who will choose to stay home, but how many? And for what ultimate reasons? Several players who have participated in these recent calls and conversations tell 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.
As they're talking to each other, many players are hearing stern warnings from their agents -- especially on the financial implications of a lost season. Agents have spent the latter stages of this week delivering foreboding warnings on the short- and long-term financial impact if the season gets blown up.
Players are already losing an estimated $300 million in salary, and terminating the rest of the season would cost another 25% of salary with owners exercising the force majeure provision. That's on top of losing an additional 10% held in escrow that would be lost to the league too. NBA players would stand to lose $1.2 billion in salary this season. There exist larger fears for next season. The NBA has the ability to terminate the collective bargaining agreement that already includes a mutual opt-out in 2022-2023. Already, the NBA and NBPA have to negotiate a long list of financial and competitive items to account for the loss of revenue, but agents expect that the league would react to the cancellation of this season by blowing up the CBA, locking out the players and moving to implement a more unfavorable financial share of basketball-related income, which is now essentially a 50-50 split.
The NBA has its superstars on board for a resumption, but it needs a broader base of its players to be fully committed to Orlando. For now, there's restlessness and uncertainty and a Friday night call with Irving on the line. The NBPA's vice president has become far less communicative with the executive committee and leadership and far more engaged with the rank-and-file membership. For a superstar who counted himself out of the season, suddenly, the clock's ticking down and the ball's in Irving's hands again.
Several high-profile players have been communicating with others en masse about the financial and practical implications if they don’t play, sources said. If there are no more games, the owners can and will likely activate the force majeure clause and re-open the collective bargaining agreement, and the players would have little leverage with the owners because of how the economy has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Every business deal the league has will be up for renegotiation, which could be a nightmare for players because of the way revenue has risen over the last several years. The salary cap is already expected to take a dip this offseason due to the postponed season.
“There’s no bigger platform than playing and being able to get your message out there,” a high-ranking black executive told Yahoo Sports, but he was not aware of the players’ specific plans to spread their message. “It’s understandable to have concerns, especially the guys who are parents and may have their kids during the summers because of custody arrangements. I can see players being against some of the restrictions of the bubble.”
Tim Reynolds: Per source, Disney personnel on-site for NBA restart will all be in PPE (masks, gloves where appropriate) at all times. They'll also undergo daily screening, including temperature checks. Also: hotel workers will be assigned certain areas and won't rotate thru properties.
Shams Charania: Sources: Protocols for Disney staff working NBA return site: - Always wearing facemasks/gloves - Strict physical distancing, never within 6 feet of NBA participant - Temperature/symptom checks - Housekeeping staff will never be in the room at same time as NBA participants
Vincent Goodwill: Yahoo sources cont’d: The high profile players are also relaying that the NBPA won’t have any leverage negotiating a new CBA with owners in the middle of a pandemic
Eric Woodyard: Following the recent black killings, racial injustice and coronavirus pandemic, Pacers’ Myles Turner says he’s in great physical shape, but mentally, “still got a little more work to do” before he can fully focus on a return to basketball this season with all that’s going on. pic.twitter.com/si3wICbYLH
Shams Charania: Health and safety: The NBA's required coronavirus testing window for teams: June 23-30, sources tell @The Athletic @Stadium.
“What everyone wants to know is how likely is it that an athlete would suffer long-term lung or other organ damage that jeopardizes their career,” Binney says. “My response to that is nobody on planet Earth, that we know of, has had this disease for more than seven months. It’s literally impossible for me to tell you that. I literally can’t tell you anything about what this disease does in a human body after seven months. That knowledge doesn’t exist in the universe.”
Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv will pay a fine of 30,000 Israeli shekels because Amar’e Stoudemire broke the quarantine rules implemented by the Israeli league ahead of the 2019-20 Winner League resumption, his team announced on Friday. The 37-year-old big man warned he had no intention to follow the protocols set by the Israeli league. He was ultimately spotted wearing a mask in a mall at Tel Aviv.
Per Maccabi: “Amar’e Stoudemire is a single parent living with his son. We saw the photos where he was seen shopping at a shopping center adjacent to his residence with a mask on his face. According to the guidelines, Amara is not allowed to go outside and shop and this is a violation of the guidelines. Players must adhere to the rules and the club severely considers any directive violation. All players must follow the rules. It is worth mentioning that the team conducted it’s second covid-19 test yesterday. Amar’e tested negative to the virus by the results we got this morning.”
Marc Stein: Portland's Carmelo Anthony to @Ernie Johnson: "As far as actually playing ... I'm still up in the air a little bit because we don't have all the details. We don't know a lot of information, so until we have that, it's kind of hard to just commit to it 100 percent"
The NBA expects the conference finals will end within a maximum of 82 days, leaving the two NBA finalists, sources said. The league expects the NBA Finals could start by Sept. 30. Several roster rules that the NBA and NBPA have agreed upon are expected to govern the league's resumption at the at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, according to sources.
Free-agent players such as DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas -- who played in the NBA this season -- and those who weren't on NBA rosters this season -- JR Smith and Jamal Crawford, for example -- are eligible to sign into open roster spots. Teams won't be allowed to sign international players, such as Nikola Mirotic, who weren't on NBA rosters this season.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Some timetables on 22 teams in Orlando: 6 teams eliminated after 35-40 days (based on play-in elimination). 14 total teams will be gone by 53 days, at latest.
Adrian Wojnarowski: More timetables in Orlando: After second-round of playoffs -- a maximum of 67 days -- four teams will be left on the Disney campus. After conference finals -- a max of 82 days -- there will be two finalists.
The Trail Blazers are one of the 22 teams participating in the restart of the NBA season in Orlando, July 31. Do you feel secure about your safety in regard to the coronavirus, and do you think the plan for the top 16 teams plus six more is fair? Damian Lillard: As a competitor I’m happy we will get an opportunity to continue and try to make a run in the playoffs. I am a little concerned about the risk we’re taking dealing with the virus, but the NBA will take all precautions into consideration to keep us safe. I think the plan going forward is fair.
As players have started to come to terms with the restrictive and isolated nature of the Orlando bubble --- including no visitors until after the first round of the playoffs nearly seven weeks after the opening of mid-July training camp -- there's been increased dialogue about the prudence of restarting the season for a number of players, especially those on non-championship contenders, sources said.
Executives and coaches around the NBA have had significant concern about how players will adapt to an environment unlike any they've ever experienced -- and how those hurdles could impact the sustained competitive drive for teams. And many have worried, too, especially on those teams that aren't title contenders, if some players will start seeking avenues to bypass the resumption all together.
Players are citing a number of concerns, including family situations, the inability to leave the Disney World Resort campus, COVID-19 and the implications surrounding the emergence of social justice causes in the country, sources said. Participants in Orlando -- including players -- will not be allowed to leave the bubble environment without a 10-day quarantine upon returning to the Disney grounds, sources said.
The NBA is roughly 50 days away from its proposed restart and legitimate reasons exist why the wait is that long. It’s not all about training camps and getting players fit, although that’s certainly critical. Mostly, as Mavericks’ vice president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said, it’s because sports has never had to deal with life-and-death realities like this. Basketball is back, but a lot of hurdles are in front of the return and some could be very challenging to clear.
“We’re trying to get it right, as a country, as an organization and individually,” Nelson said. “Listen, it’s just baby steps. Every step, you’re measuring the risk to your players, your family. We’re all measuring risk. “Death has never been on the table before. In sports, think about this, show up and if you’re unlucky, you might not make it. I mean, there’s always a heart attack or lightning that can strike. But think about that. As an organization, for our fans and our family, death has never been on the table.”
To illustrate how many steps must be covered before the NBA is actually back, Nelson explained what the Mavericks’ practice facility looks like right now. “Currently it’s one player, one basket, one heavily masked coach,” Nelson said. “I think as soon as we get a step beyond that, it’ll give the players confidence. “We have to get to two-on-two, three-on-three and eventually five-on-five. We have, like, a month and two weeks to get there. Right now, it gets pretty old when you’re sitting there and those poor coaches, they can barely breathe, man.”
One thing the NBA has on its side at the moment is time. Things are changing by the day and nobody knows how quickly things could improve (or not) with regard to the coronavirus. “I’m ready. I’m ready,” owner Mark Cuban said. “Safety first, as always. But obviously the science is improving, the testing is improving. Hopefully we’ll get to the point where there’s a vaccine and that will give us more confidence. And we’ll start playing games July 31st. I’m excited about that. It’s my birthday. It’s going to be a great birthday present.”
Early in the hiatus, Embiid pledged $500,000 to COVID-19 relief and research efforts. Embiid thought it was important to give back: “Being where I’m from, the way I grew up, I saw a lot of struggle. Being in my position, where I have the power to change people’s lives, and to help people, it’s just me. I didn’t even have to think twice about it. That’s the way my parents raised me, that’s the way I was brought up. Add in the fact that growing up in Africa, in Cameroon, all the struggle that I saw - it’s only right for me to make that kind of gesture… I want to keep doing it, and help as many people as I can.”
One of the significant factors in establishing risk for health complications due to the coronavirus is advanced age, which leaves three head coaches among those in the league's 22-team July restart -- New Orleans' Alvin Gentry (65), Houston's Mike D'Antoni (69) and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich (71) -- perhaps vulnerable to recommendations of those evaluations, sources said.
The NBA is nearing completion on a voluminous health and safety guide detailing the protocols for the 22 teams involved in the league's resumption at The Walt Disney World Resort, sources said. Personnel are expected to begin an evaluation process by submitting medical information to their individual team doctors, who will then share that with at least one more non-team affiliated physician before a recommendation would be rendered, sources said.
Limitations to D'Antoni, Gentry and Popovich could leave their three teams at a significant competitive disadvantage in Orlando. Executives with the three franchises -- and elders of the National Basketball Coaches Association -- have been in consistent contact with the league office on the matter, sources said. D'Antoni and Gentry have been publicly and privately frustrated with the possibility that they could be left off the team's bench -- or even left out of the bubble -- and fear a decision to limit or omit them could become death knells to their careers.
Legal experts consulted by ESPN, including a top attorney in the Miami office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, agreed unanimously the NBA could not exclude any personnel from participating in Orlando solely on the basis of age. That would not change even if all personnel over a certain age agreed to a medical review before heading to Orlando, and the review highlighted risk factors linked to more severe outcomes from any coronavirus infection, experts said.
"You can't base an adverse employment decision solely on the possibility that someone's age puts them at higher risk to get sick, or have more serious symptoms," Robert Weisberg, regional attorney at the EEOC's Miami office, told ESPN.
Forcibly excluding such personnel could implicate both the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and (perhaps more important) the Americans with Disabilities Act, experts said. The ADEA bars employment standards that more harshly impact older workers even if they are applied to everyone. There are exceptions if employers can prove "a reasonable factor other than age" -- perhaps a pre-existing medical condition in this instance -- is at the root of any prohibition, legal experts said.
But in a legal memo released last month, the EEOC made it clear that under the Americans with Disabilities Act employers may not exclude employees "solely because" of any risk factor "that places him at higher risk for severe illness if he gets COVID-19." The ADA allows exceptions in cases in which the risk factor "poses a direct threat to [the employee's] health that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation," the memo states. The "direct threat" standard is hard for employers to meet, legal experts said. Everything the NBA has planned Orlando -- strict quarantines, social distancing, frequent testing and temperature checks - in effect mimics a "reasonable accommodation" designed to reduce risk.
With the next NBA season not expected to start until at least Dec. 1, that calls into some serious question whether that could overlap with Olympic qualifying tournaments that some nations will need to endure in June 2021 and the Tokyo Games themselves the following month. And Kerr, who is slated to be an assistant under San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich for USA Basketball in Tokyo, said Tuesday that he doesn’t have any idea how the schedule will work. “Believe it or not, I haven’t had a single conversation with Pop about that,” Kerr said. “And the reason is because we don’t know. We’ve been talking almost daily now for the last couple of weeks and before that we were speaking once every few weeks. So, we haven’t even had a single conversation because there’s nothing to report.”
November 30, 2022 | 5:07 am EST Update
“Damian Lillard is targeting a return date of December 4th here in Portland against the Indiana Pacers.” @ChrisBHaynes shares the latest timetable on Damian Lillard
Callie Caplan: Tim Hardaway Jr. (22 points on 8-16 FG) after his most efficient game of season: “It was a relief today just to see them put me in there [starting] and give me confidence.” He and Jason Kidd had long talk yesterday while THJ came in for an off-day workout.
Nick Wright: Luka Doncic is 23 years old. Dirk Nowitzki played 20 years, all for the Mavs, and is the NBA’s 6th all time leading scorer. Luka Doncic and Dirk Nowitzki now have the same number of career 40 point games!!! Doesn’t seem possible, but it is.