Kyrie Irving’s stance against the NBA, which has been shutdown since March because of the coronavirus pandemic, resuming play amid a social justice movement has significant support among his peers. More than 80 players joined the Nets star on a conference call Friday night, with several sharing the opinion that the league — scheduled to restart on July 30 in Orlando — shouldn’t distract from the nationwide reforms being fought for by the “Black Lives Matter” cause.
But change isn’t confined to one path. Some players disagree with Irving, arguing that four months of daily media coverage fed to millions of sports-starved fans can be an even stronger vehicle for their message.
The sport’s strongest voice and most recognizable face, LeBron James, is reportedly leading the fight in favor of finishing the season. Earlier in the week, James announced the formation of a voting rights group, along with Hawks guard Trae Young, in hopes of increasing black voter turnout and ending black voter suppression. James reportedly was not on the Friday call. The Athletic reported he wants to continue to play while also being a voice for social change.
“Because of everything that’s going on, people are finally starting to listen to us,” James told the New York Times. “We feel like we’re finally getting a foot in the door. How long is up to us. We don’t know. But we feel like we’re getting some ears and some attention, and this is the time for us to finally make a difference.”
Though Irving, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery, already wasn’t planning on playing in the 22-team bubble — approved last week by the NBA board of governors and the players’ union — the Nets guard would sacrifice millions of dollars if play did not resume.
Players who have already seen their paychecks reduced by the shortening of the regular season — and make significantly less than Irving’s $33.3 million salary next season — could see the NBA’s economic structure collapse if play doesn’t restart this summer.
Without a conclusion to the 2019-20 season, the NBA could terminate the collective bargaining agreement by exercising the force majeure provision due to the COVID-19 pandemic, trigger a lockout then slash player salaries, with uncertainty surrounding whether fans will be able to attend games in the 2020-21 season, giving the union little leverage.
Rockets guard Austin Rivers believes that NBA players could more powerfully fight for racial justice if players get paid.
“With this money you could help out even more people and continue to give more importantly your time and energy towards the BLM movement,” Rivers wrote on Instagram. “Which I’m 100% on board with. Because change needs to happen and injustice has been going on too long. But also….. Not to mention there are plenty of NBA players I know who need them paychecks…99% of the NBA hasn’t made the money a guy like Kyrie has.
“I love Kyrie’s passion towards helping this movement. It’s admirable and inspiring. I’m with it….but in the right way and not at the cost of the whole NBA and players careers. We can do both. We can play and we can help change the way black lives are lived. I think we have too! But canceling or boycotting return doesn’t do that in my opinion. Guys want to play and provide and help change!!!!”
The Lakers, the betting favorite to win the NBA title, also have multiple players backing James, including Kyle Kuzma, Jared Dudley and Danny Green.
“The biggest thing is to continue to move forward. When we do go to Orlando, the media outlets and playing on that stage, if you use it wisely the right way you can push forward and can continue the movement even in a better forum,” Green, the Lakers’ union rep, told USA Today on Friday. “I think most guys wanted the season to come back. I didn’t think guys were against the season coming back or wanting it to be canceled. We’re all for it and didn’t want to lose out on the season. They didn’t want to lose out on winning a championship. They didn’t want to lose out on maximizing their dollar. If we lost the season, we would’ve lost a good portion of our checks.”