Social initiatives agreement brings NBA back; Utah Jazz will face Denver Nuggets in Game 6 on Sunday

Black Lives Matter is displayed near the NBA logo in an empty basketball arena Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The NBA playoffs will resume Saturday after the league and the National Basketball Players Association detailed the commitments that made players comfortable continuing the postseason. In a joint statement released Friday, the sides say they will immediately establish a social justice coalition, made up of players, coaches and owners, that would focus on issues such as voting access and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)

When the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court on Wednesday afternoon for their NBA playoff game, and other teams subsequently followed suit by joining their strike for racial justice, many people wondered, “To what end?”

What substantive, meaningful outcome could these players hope to accomplish by sitting out some basketball games?

On Friday morning came some of the answers.

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association released a joint statement in which it was announced that the league and its players had agreed upon a three-point plan of action to help bring about some of the societal change that the athletes are so desperately seeking in the wake of another high-profile shooting of a Black man by police.

The plan entails, in broad strokes, the immediate establishment of a social justice coalition; a collective effort to convert NBA arenas into voting locations for the upcoming 2020 election; and the creation of advertising spots to promote social and racial causes.

The agreement also entails the resumption of the postseason schedule, beginning Saturday. Game 5 of the Bucks vs. Magic series will get the action going again Saturday at 1:30 p.m. MT.

The Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets will play their rescheduled Game 6 on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. MT.

“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 release concluded.

The Jazz went through a practice on Friday morning in Florida, though they subsequently declined to participate in their scheduled media session afterward, citing “recent events.”

Later in the day, All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell announced that, in conjunction with the release of his signature Adidas DON Issue 2 sneakers, he would be donating $45,000 of the proceeds, and that Adidas would donate a matching $45K “to support the education of Jacob Blake’s children.”

Though the league’s Board of Governors had, in recent months, committed to a plan to donate a combined $300 million to social justice causes and to spurring economic growth in predominantly Black neighborhoods over the next 10 years, the shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin this past Sunday only served to reinforce to players already concerned about having left their communities behind that more could and should be done.

However, it had become apparent that it was not merely the league’s players who held that viewpoint.

ESPN’s Malika Andrews reported that about 100 league employees, based in New York, had joined the NBA and WNBA players’ strike in solidarity, and that they would walk off their jobs and “be spending the day calling elected officials,” including to “demand justice for Jacob Blake and for the police officers to be held accountable.”

Meanwhile, both Andrews and Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix obtained a letter addressed to commissioner Adam Silver and deputy commissioner Mark Tatum — signed by more than 150 league employees — stating, in part, “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 further stated the belief that the league had left too much of the burden for spurring societal change up to players.

“We acknowledge and credit all the work the NBA has already done. But we have the power to have a greater impact,” the letter stated. “The NBA has not done enough proactively, and rather has relied too heavily on our players. ... We understand that we are a business, but fears of losing revenue and advertisers should not numb us to the cries of Black men, women and children that continue to be oppressed in the same communities in which we play.”

A leadership committee from among the employees vowed to present a formal list of ideas to the league next week.

In the meantime, Silver sent an email to all league employees (and obtained by The Athletic) addressing some of the criticism.

“I understand that some of you feel the league should be doing more. I hear you — and please know that I am focused on ensuring that we as a league are effecting real change both within our organization and in communities across the country,” Silver wrote. “… We are here to listen and I encourage you to be as open and honest as you can.”

About three hours later, the league and its players announced their agreement.

It was the result of several intense discussions that took place over the past few days both within the NBA bubble campus in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., as well as in videoconference conversations with league owners across the country.

Following the postponement of Wednesday’s games, the NBPA membership held an emergency meeting later that night to try and determine how to proceed. However, with tensions running high, there was no consensus reached, and players predominantly from the Lakers and Clippers were advocating for the cancelation of the remainder of the postseason.

NBPA president Chris Paul recounted to reporters Friday how the emotions of Blake’s shooting created a fraught atmosphere, and that players simply needed to take a step back in order to find some common ground.

“The shootings that continue to happen, it creates a lot of unrest. A whole lot of unrest. “For us, to have a predominantly African American league, to see our Black brothers being shot and killed on a daily basis, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to us,” Paul said. “Everyone expects us to go out and play. I get it. But we needed some time. All of us. We needed some to refocus and understand that we can do that. We’re human, at the end of the day.”

And so it was that, after the various factions slept on it for a night, they reached an accord, deciding they would be willing to continue play provided a subsequent meeting with members of the Board of Governors later Thursday proved fruitful.

Those conversations yielded the plan announced Friday.

The social justice coalition will be comprised of players, coaches and team owners, and will focus on a range of issues “including increasing access to voting, promoting civic engagement, and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.” As for the arena voting plan, in the cities where the franchise owns the arena and the property it sits on, ownership will be expected to reach out to local civic leaders and election officials in an effort to convert arenas into in-person voting facilities. As for the ad campaigns, the players and league will work hand-in-hand with broadcast partners to create advertising spots in each playoff game “dedicated to promoting greater civic engagement in national and local elections and raising awareness around voter access and opportunity.”


When • Sunday, 6:30 p.m. MT


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