The NBA season is set to restart on July 30th as players have arrived in Walt Disney World, also known as the “bubble” where teams will remain for the remainder of the season.
Twenty-two teams will return this season, and as of this week, many teams have already been cleared to resume group practices after passing a series of tests.
This restart comes after a number of players spoke out against wanting to play amidst a global pandemic and due to ongoing concerns regarding anti-Black racism.
Most notably, Kyrie Irving voiced his concerns on a call with 80 other players in June. He said that he didn’t like the optics of Black players in the NBA going to a quarantined city to entertain the masses.
Similarly, Dwight Howard had reservations about returning to play due to the ongoing calls for racial justice, stating that “basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction.”
This stance wasn’t the consensus, however, as many other players stated that they believed the fight for racial justice had the potential to take place within the bubble.
Recently, the NBA announced that players would be able to add a social justice message to their jerseys which would replace their names. Players were able to choose from a list of 29 words, with Equality being the top choice.
But, what does equality really look like? Is equality making mainly Black athletes play for our entertainment?
As someone who grew up watching and playing basketball I was so excited to hear the season was restarting.
At the same time, I understand how scary it is for players knowing they will be playing in a state that has recorded approximately 270,000 coronavirus cases. The NBA is taking precautions to ensure the health of its players including regular testing, but the risks will always be there -- a fact that players are aware of.
In terms of restarting the season: yes, everyone has the choice about whether or not they want to play.
However, many who continue to have reservations about their health have chosen to play because they love the sport and don’t want to let their team down.
Philadelphia 76ers player Joel Embiid cited his concerns stating that although he decided to return, he doesn’t fully trust that the bubble will be safe for players. Embiid, like many others, made the decision to return for their team and city. This decision is understandable. It’s hard to let those who put so much faith in you down.
In early July, sports journalist Taylor Rooks, who is set to join media professionals in the bubble, launched a Twitter poll asking followers how the Orlando bubble season will play out. Even though the poll only had 2,855 individuals participate, 44.7% said the season will start but not finish.
The coronavirus has proven to be hard to manage and although the NBA is taking steps to manage the situation, the future of the season and health of its players is unpredictable.
Additionally, as ongoing concerns about racial injustice take place globally, players such as Dwight Howard, who was initially against the idea, have decided to participate stating that they will continue to fight from inside the bubble.
Howard will donate the remainder of the season's paycheck to his non-profit campaign, Breathe Again.
Individual acts from players are great, but when the season is to start, there are a number of things that the NBA can do to promote the fight against anti-Black racism, beyond just broadcasting messages.
The NBA is worth billions of dollars and has the capacity to partner with team owners to raise money specifically for racial justice initiatives.
Furthermore, it should create public service announcements with players to air during games, unpacking the realities of anti-Black racism. Viewers need to be bombarded with messages of social justice to understand the seriousness of this situation.
A few players spoke out against this set list of 29 words, claiming they would have liked to have been asked for greater input.
Sports presenter Shannon Sharpe also stated that the issue of racial justice is bigger than adding a few words to your jersey and that it was a “symbolic gesture.”
The NBA needs to do more.
Actions like adding social justice messages to jerseys and painting “Black Lives Matter” on the court are a good step forward, but if the NBA is going to put the lives of its mainly Black players in jeopardy it needs to show that the organization is truly against anti-Black racism.