SALT LAKE CITY — A large faction of NBA players reportedly took part in a Friday conference call to voice their concerns with the league’s proposed restart plan.
The news that so many players were pushing back on restarting the season and only just recently speaking up seemed to catch a lot of people off guard. That’s understandable with the way the news has trickled out, but in reality, this is exactly what should be happening right now.
First, let’s look at how news of the NBA’s plans have been making the rounds the last few weeks. It’s no secret that there are small handfuls of reporters and insiders who have been privy to many of the closed-door conversations happening within league circles. That’s why most of the stories you’ve been reading since the NBA suspended the season say things like, “according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski” and “The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported.”
Reporter access to team executives, coaches and players has been extremely limited throughout the league during the NBA’s hiatus, so the voices that are being heard are more often than not high-ranking “league sources” who are speaking to an extremely limited number of journalists. Because of this, a lot of the news that has come out has been about the progress toward a restart and the obvious logistical problems the league faces.
On June 4, the NBA Board of Governors approved a format to restart the season. The next day, the National Basketball Players Association agreed to continue those conversations.
Many (and I cannot stress that word enough), many details were reported about the discussions that were had in reaching that Board of Governors vote to approve a plan and the NBPA’s statement that followed. However, no matter how many details were leaked, it is important to note that the only thing that the NBA or players association made official was that there was a tentative agreement on format that would be completely contingent on future conversations and agreements.
Those future conversations are happening now, and they are crucial to this process.
While reporters, insiders and analysts have all said the league is moving forward, the NBA itself has said much less.
“The NBA Board of Governors today approved a competitive format to restart the 2019-20 season with 22 teams returning to play and a tentative start date of Friday, July 31,” the league said in a written statement on June 4. “The Board’s approval is the first formal step among many required to resume the season.”
The second sentence in the league’s statement is possibly the most important line in a nearly 800-word press release that mostly detailed the 22-team return to play format. The NBA Board of Governors’ approval of the format is just one step. There are many more to go.
“The Board of Player Representatives of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) has approved further negotiations with the NBA on a 22-team return to play scenario to restart the 2019-20 NBA season,” the NBPA said in a statement on June 5. “Various details remain to be negotiated and the acceptance of the scenario would still require that all parties reach agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.”
Further negotiations were approved, there is still much to be done and only after all parties agree on all issues can things truly move forward.
The fact that players are concerned about their health, safety, risk of injury and fear of a lack of focus on social issues regarding racial inequality that are deeply personal in a sport that is largely made up of black players are all completely valid and relevant to the league being able to resume play.
While news of Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (who is injured) leading a call that seemed to run in conflict with the NBA restarting came as a shock for some, it’s less of a shock when you think about the situation.
Players are still confused about how the NBA bubble in Orlando is supposed to work. The details, of which there are hundreds, if not more, have not been agreed upon, and anything that is being proposed still has to be discussed and weighed.
It is the job of Irving, as one of the NBPA’s six vice presidents, to make sure that any concern a player has is given legitimate consideration. So, when Irving is leading calls in which players are sharing their thoughts and feelings, it is not only showing the value of a players union in action, but also serving as a reminder that there are many steps to go before the NBA can present a concrete product to the public.
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell was reportedly one of the players who was on that Friday call, and shared his concerns about risking injury in Orlando following a massively prolonged layoff from basketball ahead of an offseason in which he’ll be eligible for a maximum contract extension.
That makes complete sense, and it’s a good thing that players like Mitchell have a place where they can say those things and have their concerns met with real understanding and representatives who can take those concerns to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the Board of Governors.
The NBA is a business, driven by money, and there are always competing agendas among the owners, team executives, coaches and players. That’s why the NBPA exists, and it’s why all parties have to mutually agree on a plan before play can resume.
So, while the news of players raising concerns eight weeks before the NBA wants to resume the 2019-20 season might come as a surprise for some, it makes absolute sense. It’s now or never, and it’s better to get all concerns out in the open now rather than in August, in the midst of a restarted season.