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.”
NBA bubble observations: LeBron James narrative is a bit overstated
A shortened season was advantageous to a number of older Lakers. Rajon Rondo is 34, Dwight Howard 34, Danny Green 33 and Markieff Morris 31. And it gave a stronger likelihood of injury-prone Anthony Davis staying healthy..
1. I am not here to place a Phil Jackson asterisk on the Lakers’ 17th championship like the Zen Master did on the lockout-shortened, 1999 campaign. But let’s not get carried away with the rhetoric that LeBron James’ fourth title is more worthy because it was done amid 100 days in the NBA bubble, away from family.
James underscored that theme after the Lakers topped the Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals last Sunday, stating: “You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have ups and downs in the bubble. At times I was questioning myself: Should I be here? Is this worth sacrificing my family?”
In fact, the elderly Lakers saw their chances of winning the title enhanced by the restart format. The season was shut down for four months, allowing James to rest his 35-year-old bones. James didn’t play a regular-season game from March 10-July 30. A total of 71 regular-season games were played in the season, 11 fewer than usual.
A shortened season was advantageous to a number of older Lakers. Rajon Rondo is 34, Dwight Howard 34, Danny Green 33 and Markieff Morris 31. And it gave a stronger likelihood of injury-prone Anthony Davis staying healthy.
The grueling travel for a West Coast team was eliminated. In The Finals alone, a six-game series would have required James’ Lakers to enter the Eastern time zone twice. Wipe out the five-hour flights to and from Miami and replace it with a five-minute bus ride to their Gran Destino resort, and that’s one factor why James looked fresh as a daisy.
This wasn’t the usual physical grind of an NBA season. Even on charter flights, air travel takes a massive physical toll. The Lakers’ average age of 29.07 ranked as second-oldest in the league entering the season.
2. It’s not his most important decision, but I hope commissioner Adam Silver changes the dress code for NBA head coaches next season and forbids the sweatsuit look. It felt too much like summer league. Bring back the more dignified jacket-and-tie look. Or at least the jacket.
3. BetMGM sportbook lists the Nuggets at 20/1 (tied for ninth choice) to win the 2021 title. From the Western Conference, the Lakers, Clippers and Warriors are ahead of Denver, which made this year’s conference finals. It’s a young team getting better. Guard Jamal Murray looked like the NBA’s newest superstar. Nikola Jokic is already there. And Michael Porter Jr., selected 14th by the Nuggets in 2018, is going to get there, which will make Knicks fans even more miserable after their team passed on him to take Kevin Knox with the No. 9-overall pick that year. Michael Malone is an elite coach. At 20/1, the Nuggets are a terrific bet.
4. The 76ers had a miserable bubble result, but Doc Rivers is the right new voice to revive “Trust the Process’’ and get Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris thriving. If the Knicks only knew Rivers would’ve been available …
5. Silver got a lot of credit for shutting out COVID-19 positives, but Chris Paul, president of the Players Association, deserves as much credit for keeping the players unified. “Chris saved the season,’’ one NBA source said in referring to the pause of play after the Kenosha, Wis., shooting of Jacob Blake in August. Don’t think Knicks president Leon Rose didn’t notice the leadership of his former client.
6. With Davis expected to opt out and re-sign with the Lakers, the smart play would be pass on a long-term package and execute a 1-and-1 deal. That would make him a free agent in 2021. He still gets to defend the crown with James, but provides insurance in case LeBron finally succumbs to age in a normal 82-game marathon.
Lastly, Davis may want his “own” team. James garnered most of the buzz after the Lakers won the title — pundits analyzing whether his fourth ring or “one for the thumb” 2021 journey will stack up against Michael Jordan. It will never be an AD championship as long as James is alongside. The Knicks were once on “The Brow’s” radar. They should have cap space in 2021.
7. The Nets may wind up regretting that they passed on Tyronn Lue, who will now helm the Clippers. As one person close to Lue said recently, “There are many great things you can say about Tyronn, but if you really boil it down to one thing, it’s that he has no ego. And that personality is key with Kyrie [Irving] and KD [Kevin Durant]. Kyrie overthinks. And Tyronn doesn’t think too hard — and that’s not in a negative way.’’
8. Some teams are deciding not to partake in the loosening up of draft-preparation guidelines that will allow scouts to fly to a designated city with other clubs and watch a Pro Day-like live workout. Usually those Pro Days feature meaningless 1-on-0 drills. Some 1-on-1 interviews will be granted but with no guarantees. Some teams believe the COVID-19 risk outweighs the reward. New York has protocols that require two-week quarantines after returning from many states. One executive from a club that won’t attend told The Post the best intel is watching a prospect at his college practice. “Doing your own homework and own background checks are more important,’’ the executive said.
9. Hats off to Nets owner Joe Tsai. Without any events at which to sell them, Barclays Center donated 14,000 pounds of food Thursday from its arena to City Harvest, Food Bank for New York City and The Campaign Against Hunger. During the pandemic, the Nets helped feed 30,000 New Yorkers in need.
10. Reality Check Insights conducted a survey of 1,400 Americans on “Racing and Policing” and included an NBA question to measure if the league has become political. The findings, their research team found, is very much so. The survey showed 75.9 percent of Republicans rated the NBA as either “unfavorable/very unfavorable.’’ Democrats voted the NBA as 13 percent “unfavorable/very unfavorable’’ Independents came in at 37.7 percent.
“The just 13 percent of Republicans who rate the NBA as favorable is very similar to the percent of Republicans who had a favorable opinion of Black Lives Matter,’’ the poll’s researcher Benjamin Leff said. “People’s view of the NBA might be closely tied to the league’s posture on social-justice issues. Just like many parts of our lives, the NBA is now a political issue.’’
According to industry sources, it has become an agonizing issue for Silver after the NBA Finals ratings’ collapse. Silver has talked about less messaging on jerseys and the court next season. One source said: “It’s a balancing act for Adam. When you’re balancing, sometimes you fall.’’
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