Five takeaways from Wednesday’s NBA players meeting
Here’s what happened, and why it matters
Correction: A previous version of this story reported only 20% of NBA players are registered to vote. The figure was related to the number of eligible players who voted in the last election.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – A three-hour meeting of NBA players inside the bubble on Wednesday night was filled with emotion, honest conversation, sad truths, confusion and encouragement but ultimately ended with no conclusion on whether to finish the 2019-2020 NBA season.
Hours after the Milwaukee Bucks shocked their NBA brethren by deciding not to play Game 5 of the first round of the NBA playoffs, players from all teams inside the bubble gathered. They attempted to have a Zoom call (although technical difficulties didn’t allow it to happen) with family members of Jacob Blake, a Black man shot seven times in the back by police in front of three of his six children on Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The shooting reignited the call for social justice and prompted some in the NBA bubble to question the purpose of basketball during these times.
The players voted today to resume the playoffs.
The resumption of playoff games could come as soon as Friday, but there is expected to be a return to this season by the weekend, sources tell ESPN. https://t.co/A2PazNKDhy
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 27, 2020
Regardless of whether they stayed in the bubble or went home, a lot was revealed in the meeting about the state of the league. The Undefeated analyzes five moments revealed through reporting about the three-hour meeting and what it means.
1. Not all players are registered to vote
The league is pushing its audience to vote, but are all the players taking the same advice?
NBA Players’ Association president and Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Chris Paul has been able to get all of his Thunder teammates registered to vote, according to a source. James is pushing his More Than A Vote initiative geared at a national call to vote. Yet, only about 20% of eligible NBA players voted in the last election. Paul said strongly that every player in the league should be registered to vote before the presidential election in November.
2. Coaches provide advice for players
Some of the league’s coaches with experience playing shared guidance with the players.
LA Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has been here before. He was the voice for the Clippers throughout the Donald Sterling scandal six years ago. On Wednesday, Rivers told the players that their power is their talent, a source said. Rivers added that the players should have three action items by the meeting’s end to work on. The former NBA guard also mentioned police reform and accountability or voter registration as suggestions for action.
Houston Rockets assistant coach John Lucas told the players that they needed to push for NBA commissioner Adam Silver to be in the bubble, as well as the owners, and possibly politicians, to work on tangible change. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James also told the players that they needed to pressure each of the team owners to step up and hold them accountable, a source said. The former NBA star Lucas also told the players that the league has come a long way since he arrived in the league in 1976 with a minimum salary of $35,000 with a per diem of $25. Lucas told the players not to “f— up” the league that has been built. Lucas got rousing applause.
3. Make it count
One player wanted to ensure if teams leave the bubble, they will use their time and platform for social justice.
Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown has been one of the most vocal athletes in sports since George Floyd, a Black man, was killed in Minneapolis on May 25 after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Brown asked a bold but poignant question to the players: What is their plan if they leave the bubble and the season and go back home? a source said. Brown then asked did they plan to go protest and fight against police brutality, racial injustice, and more, or were they just going to go home and hang out with their families and friends. Silence and head nods followed.
4. Financial impacts
A player asked what would a boycott of the season mean for players’ financial future?
Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum asked for the financial breakdown from the players association in regards to whether they stopped playing or continued, as well as a plan of action from the players, a source said. Paul called on the players to come away from the meeting with a clear understanding of the financial perils that await the players and the league as a whole if the season does not finish.
The players association senior counsel, collective bargaining Ron Klempner explained that between 15-35% of their salary would be lost if they ended the season now as opposed to losing 5% if they completed the season; if the players decided not the play the rest of the season, they could lose 25-30% of salary for next year. Association executive director Michele Roberts also added that whether they continue to play or not, the next collective bargaining agreement was going to be a challenge. The league could also cancel the collective bargaining agreement and lock the players out while terms of a new CBA are negotiated under the economic and societal duress of the pandemic. Roberts and Klempner were both on-site for Wednesday’s meeting.
5. The protest only works if they are all on the same page
For this demonstration to make an impact, some players insisted the league must be a united front in their decision, whatever that may be.
Paul, along with Miami Heat forward Andre Iguodala, said that it was important for the players all to be on the same page. This didn’t happen when the Bucks abruptly decided not to play just minutes before a game, which irked the Orlando Magic, since they were unaware of the pending decision to walk out during warm-ups. (The Bucks made this decision with pressure mounting from their home state after the Blake shooting.) Milwaukee’s move also “forced the hand” of the other two games that night to be postponed. The Bucks also didn’t seem to have a plan after the decision.
Brown did speak in support of the Bucks’ decision, but much of the room seemed dismayed that the teams weren’t collectively giving notice or a stake in making that decision together.
Let’s see if the NBA players and teams can collectively make a decision about this season from here and whether they are better served using their platform in or outside the bubble.