The 13 teams remaining in the NBA’s bubble returned to practice Friday for the first time since the league postponed its Wednesday night games in response to the Bucks’ unprecedented move. Three rounds of talks over two days, including an emergency meeting of the NBA’s Board of Governors on Thursday and multiple meetings of the National Basketball Players Association, produced an agreement to continue with the balance of the playoffs, which are set to run through mid-October.
The governors for the 13 teams, NBPA representatives and league officials met Thursday, with Michael Jordan, the Charlotte Hornets chairman and the NBA’s labor relations committee chairman, taking a leading role. The Chicago Bulls legend is the NBA’s only Black majority owner.
The NBA hit pause Wednesday for the first time since it opened the restricted bubble at Disney World in early July. The three games scheduled for Wednesday and three more games Thursday were postponed and teams did not practice as the two sides discussed how to proceed. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts announced in a joint statement Friday that the two parties engaged in a “candid, impassioned and productive conversation” Thursday that produced “commitments” between the league and its players that will allow play to resume Saturday.
These initiatives included: the establishment of a social justice coalition composed of players, coaches and governors to focus on voting access, civic engagement and criminal justice reform; the coordinated use of NBA arenas as voting locations in the upcoming elections; and the airing of new televised advertising messages promoting civic engagement and voting access during upcoming games.
“These commitments follow months of close collaboration around designing a safe and healthy environment to restart the NBA season, providing a platform to promote social justice, as well as creating an NBA Foundation focused on economic empowerment in the Black community,” the statement read. “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.”
Multiple teams, including the Bucks, canceled media interviews that were scheduled to take place with their Friday practices.
“As we return to the court today, our team focus will be on our overall performance and well-being,” the Bucks explained in a statement.
Those who did speak stressed the need for a break amid the emotional exhaustion following Blake’s shooting. A group of players this week held a call with Blake’s father after the Bucks called for justice and the arrest of the police officer who shot him.
“Fifteen years in this league and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul, who serves as president of the players’ union. “What we’re doing right now is huge. Guys are really coming together and speaking and seeing real change. Guys are tired. When I say tired, I don’t mean physically tired. We’re tired of seeing the same thing over and over again. It’s emotional, especially when you’re a Black man. We’re all hurt. Everybody expects us to be okay because we get paid great money. We’re humans. We have real feelings.”
Los Angeles Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, who earlier this week had encouraged the players to play rather than sit out, admitted that he had not fully understood how affected the players were by Blake’s shooting, which comes on the heels of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor killings.
According to Rivers, the decision to return to play and salvage the postseason unfolded over three meetings. During a Wednesday night players meeting he said was filled with “anger [and] a lot of emotion,” some attendees left thinking that play would be canceled. By Thursday morning, cooler heads had prevailed and the players met to discuss their requests for the governors. Later Thursday, the governors and player representatives from each team met to finalize the agreement.
“[On Thursday] morning, it was amazing the difference,” Rivers said. “[The players] got it out, then they could talk. And then the third meeting, now we could work. I just thought the progression of that was absolutely perfect. It didn’t have to be a contentious meeting [with the governors], and it wasn’t. It was a discussion about what they needed and wanted. Adam and the [governors] were on board. We all needed a moment to breathe. It’s not lost on me that George Floyd didn’t get that moment. We did, and we took it.”
Rivers added that the isolated nature of the bubble and the rigorous playing schedule had contributed to the players’ feelings. Clippers all-star Paul George told reporters Tuesday that he had sought out a psychiatrist during an ongoing shooting slump because he was feeling “anxiety and a little bit of depression” at Disney World.
“The bubble has an effect,” Rivers said. “I’ve got to be better in seeing how we can make this experience better for our guys. That’s nothing to do with politics or anything else. That’s to do with real life. I knew it was hard, but I didn’t see the impact.”
Danny Green, a veteran guard on the Los Angeles Lakers, said the players’ union was motivated to return in part by the financial uncertainty facing many of its younger members. Given the billions in lost revenue because of the novel coronavirus pandemic and the more than $100 million spent to construct the bubble, walking away from this season could have triggered a protracted labor battle that might have placed next season in jeopardy. Green added that choosing to play also provided a unified front for their social justice efforts.
“You want to do what’s right and what’s best for the majority,” he said. "If we leave, that wouldn’t have benefited everybody. There’s guys on rookie deals, free agents, guys who haven’t made a mark in the league or made any money. ... If we felt [walking away] was the best thing to do, we would. [Staying] is probably the better way to do it to keep our platform for everyone. When we’re dispersed and divided, we’re not as strong. We considered all options.”
Meanwhile, a group of more than 100 NBA employees expressed solidarity with the players in an email to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Friday, saying they would “step back from our day jobs to process, to listen, to think, to learn, to reflect and to heal."
Rather than work Friday, the employees said they would dedicate their efforts to calling elected officials, participating in social justice demonstrations and brainstorming new ways the NBA can exert influence on matters of racial equality. Last month, after talks with union leaders, the NBA established a $300 million foundation and the visibility efforts undertaken inside the bubble, which include placing “Black Lives Matter” on the court and allowing players to wear social justice messages on their jerseys.
“We believe the NBA, its leadership, and the Board of Governors unequivocally have the leverage to do more to directly address and combat police brutality and systemic racism in this country,” the letter from employees read. “We acknowledge and credit all the work the NBA has already done, including the establishment of the NBA Foundation and prominent messaging on our courts and jerseys, but we have the power to have a greater impact. The NBA has not done enough proactively, and rather has relied too heavily on our players."
Silver wrote an email in response, expressing his “wholehearted support” for NBA and WNBA players “shining a light on important issues of social justice.”
“I understand that some of you feel the league should be doing more,” Silver wrote. “I hear you. … We are dedicated to driving the sustainable change that is long overdue.”
The NBA’s players also have received statements of support from multiple teams, a group of referees who are living inside the bubble and the coaches’ association.
The Los Angeles Clippers announced Friday that the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., would be used as a voting center for the upcoming November elections. New York’s Madison Square Garden, Houston’s Toyota Center and Salt Lake City’s Vivint Arena, among other arenas, have made similar announcements in recent days. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) called the NBA’s voting initiative “an exceptional example of patriotism.”
“As [President] Trump and his followers do everything in their power to make it harder for Americans to vote, NBA players are stepping up to protect our democracy,” Wyden wrote on Twitter.
Read more on the NBA: