NBA playoff games are set to resume on Saturday, but players are determined to keep the focus on the fight for social justice and racial equality with help from club owners and the league.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts said in a joint statement on Friday that “All parties agreed to resume NBA playoff games on Saturday.”
“We look forward to the resumption of the playoffs and continuing to work together -– in Orlando and in all NBA team markets -– to push for meaningful and sustainable change,” the NBA/NBPA statement said.
Players and the league agreed to form a social justice coalition to address a broad range of issues including access to voting, promoting civic engagement and police and criminal justice reform.
The announcement came on a third day of postponed NBA playoff games after the Milwaukee Bucks – shocked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, refused to take the court Wednesday for a scheduled Eastern Conference first-round matchup against Orlando in the NBA’s Covid-19 quarantine bubble at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
The move led to postponements in support of social justice in Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the Women’s NBA, the National Hockey League and tennis.
Milwaukee is scheduled to take the court against Orlando on Saturday, with a chance to advance to the second round. Oklahoma City take on Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers face Portland in another potential series-clinching game.
Lakers superstar LeBron James was reportedly among a small group of players who consulted with former President Barack Obama to find a productive way forward after games were halted.
“As an avid basketball fan, President Obama speaks regularly with players and league officials,” Katie Hill, a spokeswoman for Obama, told the New York Times.
“When asked, he was happy to provide advice on Wednesday night to a small group of NBA players seeking to leverage their immense platforms for good after their brave and inspiring strike in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting.”
Hours of meetings – first among players as they discussed whether to continue the season at all and then among players, owners and league commissioner Adam Silver – resulted in the coalition and some concrete next steps.
Among the initiatives agreed on, NBA owners whose teams own and control their arenas will work with local elections officials to use them for voting locations for the 2020 US general election, allowing safe in-person voting options in communities fearful of COVID-19.
If that option won’t work, NBA team owners will try to find another election-related use for the arena, such as for voter registration or ballot counting.
Oklahoma City star point guard Chris Paul, president of the players union since 2013, said the solidarity shown by players was unprecedented in his experience.
“Fifteen years in this league and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Paul said of the hours of meetings in which players voiced their feelings and sought ways to use their public platform to battle racism and inequality in the wider world. “The voices that were heard, I’ll never forget it.”
Players pushed NBA club owners to undertake broader measures for social change, frustrated by video of Blake, a black man, being shot in the back seven times by a policeman.
Paul choked up as he told reporters about speaking with Blake’s father, and said NBA players, the majority of whom are black, were exhausted as similar stories continue to surface in the United States, where the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May sparked protests across the nation and beyond.
“We’re all tired of just seeing the same thing over and over again,” he said. “And everybody just expects us to be OK because we get paid great money.”
Ultimately, Paul said, players realized continuing the season would give them greater visibility as they press for change.
“We’re going to continue to play but we’re also going to continue to make sure our voices are heard.”
A moment to breathe
Silver had told league employees the measures were coming as he expressed full support for the players’ walkout.
“I wholeheartedly support NBA and WNBA players and their commitment to shining a light on important issues of social justice,” Silver wrote in an open letter to NBA employees posted on the league’s website.
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said that despite the emotionally charged atmosphere, meetings between players and owners weren’t contentious.
“The key to this thing is we all needed to take a breath,” Rivers said. “We needed a moment to breathe. It’s not lost on me that George Floyd didn’t get that moment.
“But we did. And we took it.”