Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets

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This past weekend a lot has happened in relation to the topic of the NBA starting up again, and for fans eager to see basketball, it might not be considered positive news.

It was broken by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that there are a significant amount of players in the NBA who are opposed to the league resuming play in light of all the social justice issues that are currently plaguing the country right now. The voice of that group is none other than Vice President of the Player Association, Kyrie Irving.

It’s reported that up to 200 players took part in a zoom call yesterday (June 18), and the majority of those players opposed going to Orlando to resume the season in the league proposed 22-team format. Irving said he feels like something fishy is going on with the owners, and there are bigger things to worry about than basketball right now.

Irving’s former teammate, LeBron James, completely disagrees with him.

According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, LeBron thinks the players have the ability to further influence social change by playing and making statements while all the fans are watching on live TV.

Many others have spoken out saying they’re against the return of the NBA as well– Stephen Jackson strongly feels that it’s a distraction, and Shaq says to “scrap the season.”

There could be a motive behind LeBron James’ perspective as the 34-year-old is in the midst of his 17th season. His clock on league domination is ticking, and his chance to secure a 4th NBA title could be slipping away with the forfeiture of this season. Not to mention, prior to the league stoppage, the Lakers were one of the favorites to win it all. Also, it’s no secret that James has ambitions to be a billionaire, and while adding a championship will do much more to that than the money he will make directly, it never hurts to add a couple million to the bank account.

Kyrie, on the other hand, is not going to be playing at all this season regardless of whether league play resumes or not, because of a season-ending shoulder injury. Kevin Durant –his teammate that he hasn’t touched the floor with yet– also announced he would not be playing this season if play did resume. However, if the season resumed, Kyrie would be getting paid to not play, so any ideas that he is doing what he is doing for selfish reasons could get thrown out there.

Dwight Howard, a current member of the Lakers, came out and said that he is opposed to the league resuming in Orlando. In a statement he released to CNN, Dwight said unifying his people is more important than winning a championship. “Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction,” he wrote.

Austin Rivers and Patrick Beverley are throwing their weight behind the “let’s play” train with the former citing financial gain –which could benefit the BLM movement– and the latter looking to do whatever King James does.

The idea that playing will provide some sort of distraction from the morbid reality of social injustice is not lost upon me. However, distractions are just that; distractions. We no longer need to be distracted from this issue of police brutality and systemic racism towards people of color. We need to address it head-on, right here, right now. What better time? Sports, at least major sports, in North America are already paused with no obvious and clear date for resumption. Players in the past have tried bringing attention to light using their platform: Colin Kaepernick kneeling, the ‘I Can’t Breathe’ shirts the NBA donned, the hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin, the inside out shirts from the Donald Sterling era. All of that, yet here we are, still facing some of those same issues. It’s not to say keeping the NBA season paused will remedy these issues, but there are just so many other things that matter right now. Between the civil unrest and the global pandemic, it feels a bit odd to even discuss trivial matters such as sports right now.