Before this past Friday, the resumption of the NBA season seemed all but assured, with both the league’s Board of Governors and the players’ association’s representatives having almost unanimously approved the plan.
After details of Friday’s conference call featuring some 80-odd players emerged, though, there was suddenly considerably less certainty that the games will go on. Various reports indicated that some players on the call made a case for potentially not playing — due to the risk of contracting COVID-19, fear of getting injured as a result of an oddball training camp followed by a compressed schedule, or reservations about stealing attention from the Black Lives Matter movement sweeping the country.
Utah Jazz reserve center Ed Davis, a 10-year NBA veteran, told HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy in a wide-ranging interview published Monday that he understands all of those concerns, but that in his mind, there are clear reasons for finishing this season.
“I know a lot of guys are iffy about playing. But it’s sort of bigger than that because if we don’t play, I honestly think there’s a chance that we won’t play next year,” Davis told HoopsHype.
His concern is not unfounded.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the “force majeure event clause” at this point? Essentially, there’s a provision in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the league and the players in which, if it’s determined that some event — say, a coronavirus pandemic — precludes the NBA from being able to “perform its obligations,” the league then not only has the right to halt player pay, but to terminate the existing CBA.
The original language of the NBA’s force majeure clause stated that the league was required to notify the players of its intent to enact the clause within 60 days of the event (in this case, the coronavirus-related shutdown); however, back on May 11, both sides agreed to push the deadline back to September, in hopes of working out a return-to-play scenario.
As we all know, such a scenario is taking shape — including the option for individual players to opt out without penalty (save forfeiture of corresponding salary). Should a widespread, organized campaign convince players to skip returning en masse, however, it is assumed that owners would respond by tearing up the existing CBA in order to pursue financial remedies.
As Kurt Helin of NBCSports.com pointed out, this would be disastrous for players — not merely because of the $1.2 billion in salaries they’d be forgoing (per projections from ESPN’s Bobby Marks), but because they’d almost certainly take a substantial hit to their future portion of the “basketball-related income” (BRI) they split with owners.
“There almost certainly would be a lockout, with the billionaire owners able to wait out the millionaire players to get what they want (there are far more minimum-salary players in the NBA than there are guys making eight figures who can chill during a lockout),” Helin wrote. “This would look a lot more like the 2011 NBA lockout, a situation where the players went into it getting 57% of the BRI and came out of it with a 50/50 split with owners. The players got crushed in that negotiation. It would happen again.”
Davis, who took part in Friday’s players conference call, said it is incumbent upon the players now to take the long view.
He heard the comments attributed to Donovan Mitchell about being worried that an injury suffered in this return could impact his potential long-term earnings. And in cases such as that, he supports players making decisions they feel are best for themselves.
“For some guys, there’s a lot on the line,” Davis said. “You got some guys who are in a contract year. If I’m Jordan Clarkson or Donovan, I might not want to play, just for the simple fact that I had a good year and I’m looking for a contract extension, so why would I risk getting hurt?”
Still, he added that everyone sitting out would only wind up hurting players’ ability to make big money in the future.
“We have to … save the league for all the people who are going to come after us,” Davis said. “This is coming from a 10-year vet; I’m on the back end of my career and I’ve made enough money, so it’s not really about the money [for me]. It’s more about the future guys — a guy like Donovan Mitchell, who is looking at a $160 million contract but he might only get $90 million if the cap drops.”
Along those lines, he certainly understands the argument that resurrecting basketball right now will inevitably diminish some of the attention being paid to the issues of racial and social justice in the aftermath of the deaths of people such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
Again, though, he suggests that players have a chance to offset that not only with the unprecedented attention that retuning to play would afford them, but with the money they could subsequently redirect to areas of need.
“We can take that money — those billions and billions of dollars — that we’re going to make and pour it back in the community. You can look at it like that — that us losing out on that money would hurt generations of people,” Davis told HoopsHype. “… This is when we really have to stick together and really use our platform and really make a difference. I think that we have so many resources through the NBA and working with the NBA, that’s how we’re gonna make things happen. Taking a stand and not playing, I just don’t think that’s going to better the situation. I guess it might be a little distraction, but it’s on us to turn that distraction into a positive thing.”
Davis believes, in talking to his peers, that enough see the big picture to realize that the systemic and societal change that players are trying to effect “is not going to happen over a week, over a month or over a year. This is going to take decades.” That’s why he, at least, is maintaining confidence that a return to action is still bound to happen.
“Yeah, I’m about 99.9 percent sure that we’ll finish the season,” Davis said. “I know a couple guys from the Jazz have concerns, but in our group chat when we talk, everybody’s on board and we’re ready to play.”