To the joy of many fans, the NBA recently announced an abbreviated return of the 2019-2020 season and playoffs. On June 4th, it was made public that the board of governors developed plans for a 22 team season. Surprisingly, Kyrie Irving has provoked overwhelming levels of opposition to this among players.
It comes as a surprise to none that Irving has such an influence on his peers. He is, after all, a six time all star, NBA champion, and Vice President of the NBPA (National Basketball Player’s Association). He is no stranger to controversy, criticized for his locker room presence and ridiculed for his outlandish theories. But why does Irving, who would not even play in Orlando in July, so strongly oppose the NBA’s proposition?
Kyrie participated in a Zoom discussion with over 75 fellow players this past week, discussing topics ranging from recent racial protests to salary cuts as a result of potentially opting out of the season. He suggested that players stay home, fighting racial injustice within their communities. Despite claiming he would not be present in Orlando at all if the plan were to be approved, he later remarked that he would attend if there was a general consensus that it was the right idea. Irving was backed by several stars from across the league, including Jazz Guard Donovan Mitchell. Portland Trail Blazers star CJ McCollum reportedly raised an interesting point, indicating that players would be given more leverage in CBA negotiations if they were to finish out the season. Younger players including Mitchell and Jayson Tatum reasonably expressed concerns about injuries that would prevent them from receiving max extensions.
24 year old Memphis forward Justice Winslow launched a verbal attack on the Board of Governors. He confidently remarked that “This shit ain’t even about basketball or our safety… all about the benjamins baby. I’m not sure if they really care if we get corona”. It is always reasonable to question the owners’ intentions. However, the “bubble” proposition does not seem to pose risks of contracting COVID. Theoretically, Disney would provide players with constant health care, living accommodations and recreational opportunities.
Many players remain in favor of the season’s resuming. Rockets point guard Austin Rivers criticized Kyrie’s call for sitting out to promote racial justice. He promoted the idea that players and the league could use profits from the season to aid the cause. Rivers also posted on instagram that he was “trying to find the correlation” between going to Orlando and turning a blind eye to racial injustice. He also reasonably threw in the fact that Kyrie makes more money than 95% of players. His final point was that drastic financial losses would occur if the season was put off completely. Rivers stated that “We can play and we can change the way black lives are lived… boycotting doesn’t do that”. Dwight Howard explained to CNN that he believed “Entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment”. Rivers opposed this, saying a return of basketball would provide a spark of hope for many.
Ed Davis of Utah further elaborated on River’s point. He said it was easier for superstars with max contracts to so easily oppose the season’s restarting. Davis later said, similar to Rivers, that the league is dominated by a predominantly black player population. Billions of dollars being paid to these young, black players/activists leads to further aid towards reform and justice.
I personally agree with Davis and Rivers. I wholeheartedly respect Kyrie’s call for a primary focus on social justice. However, the financial boost of the season’s completion implies more funding towards these causes and ensures the league’s safety.
The situation is best summarized by Davis. The ten year veteran analyzed how the situation personally affected him, and chose to prioritize the bigger picture.
Davis says “For me, I make $5,000,000 a year and I’m talking for me, I make $5 million a year and I’m taking a 25% pay cut [due to COVID-19], so I’m losing around $30,000 every two weeks. That’s hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that’s what is creating generational wealth and that’s what is really going to help the black community. I don’t know if guys are looking at it like that… I get it, we need to take a stand; we got to do this, we got to do that. But you got to have money to do some of these things and make some of these things happen. [Change] isn’t just gonna happen because of us boycotting and not playing and shutting it down. And then, we’re really gonna be set back”.