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The ballers who missed the NBA bubble are ready to continue the fight

Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and others speak about the league’s social justice efforts and carrying it forward

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For Stephen Curry, not being a part of the “fight and in that competition” in the NBA bubble was difficult. The Golden State Warriors’ two-time MVP would have enjoyed shooting 3-pointers near the “Black Lives Matter” signage on the courts and participating in the historic social justice movement that took place this summer in Orlando, Florida.

Watching from afar, Curry was still able to appreciate how his NBA brothers took advantage of the spotlight the bubble provided.

“Going into the bubble, there was an importance and an intentionality around keeping that conversation going, despite basketball games being played,” Curry told The Undefeated. “And the good that came out of it was felt.”

NBA players initially considered not going to Orlando in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. But players ultimately decided to restart the season when the league promised to stand alongside them in using their platforms to speak out in the bubble with the world watching.

“I was very proud of the NBA for allowing the players to have their own voice surrounding social justice,” said Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant.

Many players who weren’t in the bubble stayed connected to what was happening in Orlando while continuing to do work in their communities. Now they’ll have the opportunity to use their platforms during the season, too.

The Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks weren’t invited to Walt Disney World for the continuation of the 2019-20 season due to their losing records. That kept Curry, Blake Griffin, Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Trae Young and Andre Drummond away from the bubble. Injuries also kept Durant, Kyrie Irving and Bradley Beal at home.

“I hated that we didn’t get to be in the bubble,” said Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. “I was chomping at the bit to support those guys and was right along with the messages they were trying to send.”

While the basketball played in the bubble was memorable, players made the experience unforgettable by speaking out about the killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other African Americans. They used media interviews to talk about police brutality, social injustice, racism and the need to vote. Players also wore jerseys with social justice messages that raised more than $700,000 to benefit African American communities and charities.

“I’m proud of being a part of the NBA fraternity where guys chose to speak up and have their voices heard and have a message and stand behind it,” Griffin said. “You saw that throughout the bubble and I expect that to continue. …

“This movement and everything that happened in late May, it was so powerful because of the state we were in as a nation and a world. Everyone stopped to see what is going on and listen.”

That was especially true when the NBA season came to a halt in the bubble on Aug. 26 after the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for a playoff game following a police officer shooting Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The rest of the NBA’s playoff teams followed the Bucks’ lead and didn’t play that day. The WNBA, MLB, the NHL and tennis star Naomi Osaka also followed suit.

NBA players on the outside, meanwhile, looked on and lent their support. Warriors forward Draymond Green said he called Heat forward and union board member Andre Iguodala to get some insight on what was going on and offer his thoughts.

“I thought it was great the way guys stood up for everyone else that doesn’t have a voice. I thought that was special,” Green said. “Continue to get the ball moving in the right direction. These issues go back hundreds of years. Nothing is going to change overnight. But if you can continue to push that message, continue to try to do what we can to create change, it’s powerful. I thought the guys did a great job of that.

“I was a little worried when guys were walking off talking about leaving the bubble. But they were able to get that squared away and really continue to use that platform to speak for those that don’t have a voice.”

After a three-day hiatus, NBA players reached an agreement with the league to return to action with a renewed focus on voting rights in the 2020 election. For one, they pushed team governors to make voting more accessible in their cities by turning arenas and other team facilities into polling sites.

“There were a lot of different initiatives and support and resources committed to from the league, from different owners, from different teams on opening up facilities for voting,” Curry said of the impact of the August protest. “And just continuing that conversation, as uncomfortable as it is, and will continue to be until real change is seen.”

Russell already sees change happening.

“As crazy as it is to say, change is happening. So much change is happening,” Russell said. “It may not look like it. But everywhere we’ve been, everywhere I’ve been, everything I see on social media, it’s a continuous fight. That is all you can ask for right now is continue to keep fighting and raise awareness to that when you have the platform to do so.”

For the players who didn’t participate in the bubble, they are looking forward to not only having the opportunity to play NBA basketball again but using their platforms during the new season.

While there are no plans for social justice messages on jerseys or the words “Black Lives Matter” on the arena floor, players are ready to speak up.

“We have to continue to go out there and spread our voice, and be noticed for these different injustices going on. Not just now, but what has been going on lately,” LaVine said. “We have to continue to try to make a stand with new ideas. Go out there and provide a voice for those that don’t have it.”

“It’s going to be on each individual,” Curry said. “The collective awareness of how we continue to leverage our platforms in a meaningful way. Whether that’s our social channels, whether that’s using our interviews and media availability, whether that’s what we do in the community. Even if it’s not a microphone or a camera there, there’s so many different ways that guys can continue that momentum and leverage resources, awareness, support, to changing the tide of our society.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.