Brooklyn Nets Superstar Questions NBA Restart Amid Police Protests, COVID-19

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[Brooklyn Nets superstar Kyrie Irving]
There is a legitimate debate to be had about the optics of Black players, many of whom have been on the frontlines of nationwide protests, convening to entertain the masses at serious risk both to their health and of distracting from their social movement.
Photo: YouTube

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kyrie Irving is questioning NBA restart due to COVID-19 and concerns regarding the protests against police.

The NBA is trying to thread a needle with an increasingly shaky hand.

The reservations we had about resuming the 2019-20 season during the coronavirus pandemic have been amplified by a social justice movement that has players split on whether or not playing basketball best serves the cause, all while the league moves full steam ahead on a reopening plan full of concerns.

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kyrie Irving raised his hand, partnering with Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley and others to coordinate a call that gave voice to roughly 20 percent of the league’s players. They discussed all the issues you might expect, health and safety among them. Ultimately, Irving made clear his opposition to resuming the season, citing a desire to combat systemic racism in his community.

And Irving has been vilified for his stance by a range of prominent NBA voices, including current and former players. Matt Barnes suggested Irving was “bulls---ing,” and Kendrick Perkins called the All-Star point guard a “distraction” from the racial injustice that continues to plague the country amid protests.

Elsewhere, Stephen A. Smith implied Irving was using social activism “as an excuse not to show up to work,” and ESPN reported “Irving seems to be relishing the clash” with the many superstars who left him off a call on which they unanimously supported resuming the season. LeBron James was among them, preferring the global stage that a return to play provides as a platform for supporting anti-racism causes.

“As history shows, leaders sometimes become self serving and forget the people that they are supposed to represent,” Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard said in a statement to The Athletic, appearing to align himself more with Irving than James in questioning the system. “Some leaders even use fear and intimidation to make sure they serve their own agendas, while forgetting the feelings of their people. ...

“As radical as Kyrie may sound, he is 100 percent correct,” he added. “We are no longer slaves, so every man has a right to transparency in order to make sound decisions. And as Avery said, in the decisions we make, be sure we are thinking of everyone collectively and not moving based off selfish agendas.”

If Irving is being ostracized for daring to question the NBA’s return during a pandemic and worldwide social unrest — the likes of which people have not experienced in generations — how much does that serve to suppress the voices of lower-profile players who might be hesitant to return? There is enormous pressure from both a financial and communal standpoint for non-superstars to fall in line.

Keep in mind that ESPN also has a vested interest in the NBA’s return, as do all players, especially James, who will enter the playoffs as a favorite to win his fourth championship and further his legacy.

Players who do not report for the remainder of the season will not be paid in their absence. However, players on the eight lottery teams not invited to participate will be paid, as will injured players, including Irving. At least half of the 22 teams resuming the season have no chance of winning a championship, which should worry the NBA as far as quality of competition and unnecessary risk are concerned.

There is a legitimate debate to be had about the optics of Black players, many of whom have been on the frontlines of nationwide protests, convening to entertain the masses at serious risk both to their health and of distracting from their social movement, and credit to Irving for having that conversation.

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