A hundred NBA players participated in a conference call on Friday night, discussing, among other things, concerns some of those players have about two ends — maybe three … can there be three ends? … of an issue regarding the league’s proposed restart in Orlando in the weeks ahead.
Even though the tally from an earlier player-reps vote, at least tentatively, approved the plan, 28-0, there are others among the players — led by Kyrie Irving — who do not feel their concerns have been properly considered.
Hence, the conference call.
One group is troubled primarily by safety and health considerations, what with COVID-19 raging on, including in and around Orlando, where the Disney complex is located, the area where NBA teams are planned to gather and play. Regarding health and safety, the league intends to have regular testing and restrictions in place for players, coaches and others necessary for the production of games as a means of protecting everyone.
But some players, including, reportedly, the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, remain uncomfortable with the setup. They’re worried about their own health, the extended wellbeing of family members and those with whom they associate, and teammates. The virus has been difficult to control, with unknowns still surrounding it, and that has caused worry on the part of many involved.
Some are able to get past that. More than just a few are not.
Other players are troubled by the exact opposite — the restrictive nature of the so-called bubble in which teams are being asked to exist and play, at least initially away from their families and friends. If team training camps are scheduled to begin on site at the end of the first week of July, which they are, and regular-season games commence on July 30 and the playoffs on Aug. 17, some teams could be engaged — trapped — in their bubble until the middle of October, when the postseason wraps.
There is some talk that as certain teams are eliminated, a limited number of family members of remaining teams could be allowed into the bubble, helping alleviate one concern, but amplifying the other.
Another portion of players is worried about the notion of starting games again — after a four-month stoppage — in the midst of social unrest that is gripping the country. One black player told Yahoo Sports it did not feel right for individuals who have been out protesting, calling for change, to leave their families and other protestors behind to go play basketball games, taking focus off the movement.
And some on the call were concerned about all three particulars.
Not to mention the financial ramifications of a start versus a no-go. The players already have lost hundreds of millions in salary, and if there were no resumption, they would lose more than a billion dollars. And that doesn’t include the ramifications for the future and the possibility that the collective bargaining agreement could be nullified heading into next season, potentially costing the players more.
It’s a complicated mix.
First, if any player does not feel comfortable enough to leave his family behind to participate in the rest of this strange season at Disney, he should not be required to do so. The league seems to be indicating that it will not force, if that’s the right word, anyone to play or coach, that there will be no additional penalty placed upon him for that decision, other than a further reduction in pay.
That’s the right call.
With a worldwide pandemic still hovering and haunting around the globe, including and, in some cases, specifically, the home regions of players and, more specifically, in Orange County, Fla., there is no justification for making players and coaches participate. There might be peer pressure, but that’s for individuals to handle as they will.
Second, as for the bubble restrictions, given the remuneration attached to and dependent on those strict rules being in place so the games can go on and players can stay as safe as possible, that concern is less legitimate. Excepting the worry about those loved ones who players and coaches are leaving behind, unattended by them.
Third, the social unrest is an ongoing issue and deserves everyone’s attention. But perhaps players being in front of TV cameras beaming their images and their play around the country and the world could help send important, productive signals to those watching, furthering the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, as opposed to distracting from them. All players might not agree with that.
The guess here, based on conversations with people around the league who would know, or should know, the games are likely to go ahead and be played. Many of the league’s stars are onboard, and the money issues are significant. The growing number of players with concerns will not swamp the prevailing opinion of players who are in favor of playing. But some rosters won’t be full, and if they aren’t, nobody should judge harshly the absentees. They’ll have their reasons for staying away, and those reasons should be respected, all around.
There’s never been an NBA season like this one, stopped, varied, splintered, worried, vexed, and maybe started again. Anybody who wants to take a pass on this one occasion should do it, without repercussion — from the league or from fans so eager to watch them in action.
At this point, everyone should take what they can get and give the space they can give, and be satisfied with both the giving and the getting.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.