If NBA players sit out the season, will they miss their best opportunity to be heard?
Here’s what can be gained by players restarting the NBA season in Orlando
Imagine hearing “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” after “The Star-Spangled Banner” before Game 1 of the 2020 NBA Finals in Walt Disney World. The Eastern Conference champs are standing side by side with one fist in the air wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts. The Western Conference champs are kneeling on the hardwood wearing T-shirts that read “Black Lives Matter.”
Before tipoff, there is silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck before he tragically died.
No, there aren’t any fans in the stands due to COVID-19, but the whole world is watching on televisions, phones and computers.
Imagine how powerful that moment would be.
Perhaps that could be a reality for NBA players if they push for the spotlight to remain on racial injustice and police brutality throughout the rest of the season, which is set to restart on July 31. Players have the attention of the league, owners, media and fans now more than ever.
‘Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing’ (The Undefeated Mix) featuring Aloe Blacc and special guests The String Queens
Some players, however, recently raised the possibility of sitting out the season.
Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving led a discussion with union members in hopes of upending the league’s plans for a 22-team restart in Orlando, Florida, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Los Angeles Lakers big man Dwight Howard and LA Clippers guard Lou Williams have also expressed concerns about returning to play with police brutality still haunting black men. Former NBA forward Stephen Jackson, a close friend of Floyd’s, echoed those sentiments.
I certainly understand their position. And if an NBA player is also worried about playing in a “bubble” due to the coronavirus, I respect that health concern as well. But indulge me in some brainstorming over what could happen if the 22 teams invited to Orlando do return to the court.
This isn’t the NFL. This isn’t Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf’s NBA. The current NBA has stood beside players in their fight against racial injustice and police brutality. NBA commissioner Adam Silver proved he is down for the cause from the start with the swift punishment of former Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Deputy NBA commissioner Mark Tatum, who is black, is pushing for diversity in NBA coaching and front-office staffs. The league is listening, and players are in a unique position to let their voices be heard.
There are many ways for players to get their message across. If they return to play, they could demand that a public service announcement about racial injustice and/or police brutality airs during the first and second halves of all games on TV and radio. The loop of advertising running at center court during games could also offer a message against racial injustice. Since the games are played at a neutral venue, they could suggest the NBA name the floor in memory of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or Rayshard Brooks or Ahmaud Arbery. They can ask that “BLACK LIVES MATTER” or “I CAN’T BREATHE” be put in bold letters on the baseline. NBA 2K, meanwhile, could be leveraged to feature this court on the video game that millions of kids play worldwide.
For the first time, the majority of NBA media around the world are also willing and eager to hear athletes talk about racial injustice and police brutality. Journalists who were previously nervous, scared or turned a blind eye are anxiously awaiting their words on these topics. NBA players can keep the conversation going whenever they have a mic placed in front of them. And there will be more eyes and ears on the NBA with so many people yearning for live sports. NBA players have the power to use the media to their advantage.
Players can also ask the companies they endorse that any ads they appear in during this time have a social injustice element to it. Can you imagine the financial and social media impact LeBron James, James Harden, Damian Lillard or Zion Williamson would have with “Black Live Matters,” “I Can’t Breathe” or a picture of Floyd on the side of their shoes with sales proceeds going to charities?
The NFL recently revealed a plan to increase its social justice footprint by pledging more than $250 million over a 10-year period. NBA players can likewise push their league to join forces with organizations fighting against police brutality, such as #8CANTWAIT and the Know Your Rights Camp. One NBA player told me he would like money to also go to public schools in urban communities. Players can push NBA governors to use local black-owned businesses going forward.
There are numerous NBA stars who won’t be playing in Orlando, including Irving, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, John Wall, Draymond Green, Trae Young, LaMarcus Aldridge, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love. Instead of taking a Nets roster spot in Orlando, perhaps Irving can turn his passion into leading the voices of players whose seasons are over. They can be vocal and visible in the fight against police brutality and racial injustice in their respective NBA cities and home communities. Eliminated teams could later join them.
The NBA has always been a leader on racial issues in North America. And by using a megaphone in Orlando, players in the WNBA, MLB, MLS and NFL could be encouraged to take the baton in their leagues. The trickle-down effect from the NBA could be an unbelievable movement that can keep the #GeorgeFloyd cause going even after the Finals conclude.
There will always be racist sports fans. But if they want to watch their beloved teams, a message on racial injustice and police brutality will be coming in the process that could potentially have an impact on the coldest of hearts.
What if Jesse Owens didn’t compete to win four gold medals during the 1936 Berlin Games and, in the process, crush Adolf Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy? What if Tommie Smith and John Carlos didn’t race during the 1968 Mexico Games or hold a black fist in the air? What if Colin Kaepernick never kneeled during an NFL game in an effort to bring awareness to police brutality?
What if NBA players decline to use their largest platform while playing for three months to voice their message against racial injustice and police brutality?