The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have agreed to the terms for resumption of the 2019-20 season in Orlando. Some players, however, aren’t on board with that approach.
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving has made clear his belief that the season should not continue, although he has said he will defer to the will of his colleagues. Los Angeles Lakers forward Dwight Howard agrees with Irving.
“Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction,” Howard said in a statement provided by his agent to CNN. “I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA championship. But the unity of my people would be an even bigger championship, and that’s just too beautiful to pass up. What better time than now for us to be focusing on our families? This is a rare opportunity that, I believe, we as a community should be taking full advantage of. When have we ever had this amount of time to sit and be with our families? This is where our unity starts. At home! With family! European Colonization stripped us of our rich history, and we have yet to sit down and figure us out. The less distractions, the more we can put into action into rediscovering ourselves. Nations come out of families. Black/African American is not a nation or nationality. It’s time our families became their own nations. No basketball until we get things resolved.”
The opinions of Irving and Howard are not unanimous. Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers made the case on Saturday for continuing and finishing the season.
“Us coming back would be putting money in all our pockets,” Rivers wrote on Instagram. “With this money you could help out even more people and continue to give more importantly your time and energy to the [Black Lives Matter] movement. Which I’m 100 percent on board with. Because change needs to happen and injustice has been going on too long.”
From a labor law standpoint, none of this matters. Unless it can be shown that the rank and file should have voted on the return-to-play arrangement between the NBA and the NBPA, the union has reached an agreement that applies to all players. If the players don’t play, the owners could accuse them of engaging in what amounts to an illegal strike.
Whether it comes to that is a different issue. If some or all of the players decide not to play, the limit of any consequences arguably should be that they forfeit their pay. Between the pandemic and the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd (and now the murder of Rayshard Brooks), a decision by the NBA and its owners to show empathy, patience, and understanding in the short term makes far more sense than banging on the CBA and reminding the players of their obligations under it.