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NBA arena owners agree to make venues available for safe voting in November

Participants taking the streets while holding a Trump Lies,... Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

The NBA and NBPA announced Friday a new series of social justice initiatives that will permit a return-to-play on Saturday following two days of player boycotts. Among the initiatives: “owners will work with local officials to turn those arenas into voting locations for the 2020 elections,” reports ESPN.

Since Joe Tsai’s BSE Global controls Barclays Center as well as two tenants, the Nets and Liberty, it would appear that the Brooklyn arena will be part of the initiative. The arena’s entrance plaza, of course, was the scene of protests in May and June following the killing of George Floyd at the hands Minneapolis police.

However, the Gothamist quotes the city board of elections saying Barclays is not currently committed to being a poll site. BSE Global didn’t respond to requests for information From the Gothamist or NetsDaily.

With COVID-19 infections still on the rise, there is concern that voters will not want to line up in traditional polling places like town halls, schools or fire departments. So larger venues can provide larger, safer spaces for voters as well as easy access.

Here’s the specifics thus far on the commitment from ESPN...

Specifically on the voting front, in every NBA city where the league’s franchise owns and controls its arena property, owners will work with local officials to turn those arenas into voting locations for the 2020 general election, giving constituents a way to vote in person during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. And, if that isn’t possible, there will be an effort to still use those facilities in other ways, including potentially being a place to register voters and receive ballots.

Some NBA teams — including the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets, Charlotte Hornets and Utah Jazz — have already announced that their arenas will be available to be used as voting locations in November.

Later Friday, the Knicks announced they had reached an agreement with the city for the Garden to be used for voting, Discussions between the city and Garden were underway before the NBA/NBPA initiative was announced.

There are 29 NBA venues —the Lakers and Clippers call Staples Center home— but no word yet on how many of the arenas are owned by teams and could be included in the initiative. In New York, both the Nets and Knicks control their arenas. (Technically, the state owns Barclays Center but BSE is the operator under an agreement with a state authority.)

There’s also no word —yet— from BSE Global, but considering the various initiatives the Tsais —Joe and Clara Wu Tsai— have committed to, it would be surprising if ultimately they didn’t make Barclays available. Joe Tsai has previously said that he has no problem with the arena plaza being used for peaceful protests and signage at the arena features quotes from Martin Luther King and Angela Davis.

Three days ago, the Tsais announced a $50 million commitment over 10 years to a Social Justice Fund centered on Brooklyn. That’s in addition to the $10 million commitment they made, as NBA owners, to the league’s own fund. The Wu’s foundation has also reportedly made a $10 million contribution to Meek Mill’s REFORM Alliance and Clara Wu Tsai is a “founding partner” of the alliance.

Among the other initiatives outlined by ESPN are...

— The immediate establishment of a social justice coalition, including representatives among players, coaches and team owners, that will cover a wide array of issues including increased voting access, promoting civic engagement, and advocating for “meaningful police and criminal justice reform.”

— The NBA agreed to work with both the players and its broadcast partners to create advertising that will appear during each NBA playoff game to promote greater civic engagement in national and local elections, and to raise awareness around voting access.

“These commitments follow months of close collaboration around designing a safe and healthy environment to restart the NBA season, providing a platform to promote social justice, as well as creating an NBA Foundation focused on economic empowerment in the Black community,” Adam Silver and Michele Roberts said in the statement. “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 Bucks led a boycott of NBA playoff games two days ago following the shooting of Jacob Blake in the Milwaukee suburb of Kenosha, WI., last Sunday ... and subsequent killing of two protesters by a 17-year-old Illinois youth toting an AR-15 assault rifle. The boycott spread and both the NBA and WNBA had to postpone games. There was even a danger that the NBA season could shut down.