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Debate engendered by Kyrie Irving has NBA players taking sides on return-to-play

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Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving’s suggestion Friday night that players should think about sitting out the NBA’s return-to-play is engendering a public —as well as private— dialogue among the players. Dwight Howard and Lou Williams among others are saying they agree with Irving about not playing and Austin Rivers, Danny Green and LeBron James taking the opposite position.

Irving’s concerns are related to whether NBA games would take away from issues related to social justice, but players are also worried about strict conditions within the Walt Disney World “bubble” and health risks as coronavirus infections rise in Florida.

According to Shams Charania, Irving told some 80 players who joined a conference call Friday, “I don’t support going into Orlando. I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit. Something smells a little fishy.”

The Nets star also reportedly told the call, “I’m willing to give up everything I have (for social reform).”

Although some, including Adrian Wojnarowski, suggested Irving had initially agreed with the plan to bring the NBA back, then changed his mind, a little more than a week ago, Irving wrote this as part of an Instagram post...

“It’s clear White Supremacy and Corporations use us Native Indigenous Black Folk when it is beneficial for their agenda and pockets, so be aware of the truth in plain sight Family. How are we gonna break these generational curses that have been put on us purposefully to kill us and our families off? Taking our Land and Culture Back!”

While Irving let it be known he was against going to Orlando, he told the call he’d ultimately stand with the group if they decided to play, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo! By Saturday, however, some players looked like they are prepared to sit it out. They argue the NBA would be an unwelcome “distraction” from larger societal issues which were spurred by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police three weeks ago.

As Silver Screen and Roll, our sister site on SB Nation, reported, Howard’s agent gave a statement confirming the 15-year veteran’s position to Jill Martin of CNN, Howard explained his position, saying that as much as he wants to win his first title, he has bigger goals in mind than achievements on the court:

“I agree with Kyrie (Irving). Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction. Sure it might not distract us the players, but we have resources at hand majority of our community don’t have. And the smallest distraction for them, can start a trickle down effect that may never stop. Especially with the way the climate is now. I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA Championship. But the unity of My People would be an even bigger Championship, that’s just too beautiful to pass up. What better time than now for us to be focusing on our families?

“This is a rare opportunity that, I believe, we as a community should be taking full advantage of. When have we ever had this amount of time to sit and be with our families? This is where our Unity starts. At home! With Family!! European Colonization stripped us of our rich history, and we have yet to sit down and figure us out. The less distractions, the more we can put into action into rediscovering ourselves. Nations come out of families. Black/African American is not a Nation or Nationality. It’s time Our Families became their own Nations. No Basketball till we get things resolved.”

Clippers guard Lou Williams also said publicly on Saturday that resuming the season would be “a distraction” that potentially kept societal change from continuing to happen.

In fact, Ian Begley of SNY reported that a significant number of players on an Eastern Conference playoff team “expressed strong concern about playing in Orlando.”

On the other hand, Lakers guard Danny Green told Mark Medina of USA Today that he believes that players can use the platform of the season to make their voices heard. LeBron James has reportedly made clear he disagrees with Irving’s stance.

Austin Rivers of the Rockets put out a lengthy statement of his own on Instagram, arguing that players could use the money and platform they’d get from playing out the season to continue to further the Black Lives Matter movement:

“Us coming back would put money in all of our (NBA players’) pockets,” Rivers continued. “With this money you could help out even more people and continue to give more importantly your time and energy towards the BLM movement. Which I’m 100% on board with. Because change needs to happen and injustice has been going on too long.”

Rivers added that many NBA players need their paychecks and pointedly noting that Irving has made more money than “99 percent” of the league.

The son of the Clippers coach also expressed concern about the drastic financial implications of not resuming the season, including “possibly even canceling next year.”

The Nets Garrett Temple, like Irving a union vice president, had made the same argument prior to the Friday night conference call, telling Malika Andrews that he’s working to ensure that as many players as possible come to Orlando, making and taking calls. Temple argued that playing games —and earning a paycheck— is actually one of the best ways players can advance the cause of black people.

“The difference in the economic gap between white America and black America is astronomical. I can’t in good conscience tell my brethren to throw away millions of dollars in order to create change that I don’t see the direct impact of — if there was a direct impact of laws changing, that would be a different story.”

He, too, implied that a boycott of the return-to-play could hurt the players long-term.

Meanwhile, former NBA player Stephen Jackson, a friend of George Floyd, said players need to put societal concerns first.

“Playing basketball is gonna do one thing. Take all the attention off the task at hand right now of what we’re fighting for.”

As of early Saturday afternoon, nothing has been settled. Stay tuned.