NBA basketball has been put on hold for quite a long time already, for the sake of caution and due diligence required of a professional league making the effort to protect players, employees, and fans from COVID-19.
When plans have been made to restart the season, many players have expressed their excitement to return to play. It is not surprising that fans are just as excited, eagerly anticipating the time they can finally watch NBA games once again —live, preferably, or over broadcast channels, should it be the only viable option.
It is not surprising that this buoyed the hopes of employees fervently wishing to return to work because it means having the means to provide for themselves and their families.
It is not surprising that stakeholders involved in the business side of the NBA felt some sense of relief with the news because this helps them in the effort to push back the financial backlash from having to put the season on hold.
It is not surprising that everyone is excited but anxious because, despite the best-laid out plans, there is no guarantee everything will go smoothly especially with the threat of COVID-19 still looming.
When some of the players made it public their intention not to play not because of the COVID-19 pandemic but because they see sitting out the season as a means to protest racism in the United States, it is not surprising that this matter caught fire and engaged many people.
Professional basketball players trying to involve themselves in resolving an important race-related social issue speaks about how they are invested not just in their professional success, but also in the welfare and wellbeing of the citizens, the community, and the country. This is commendable. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is supporting players who do not wish to play.
What I noticed following this news is that somewhere along the way, the conversation veered towards divisiveness, which is ironic since unity is one of the things this protest is hoping to inspire.
I think here’s where everything went sideways: arguing which side in the issue of refusing to play is right or wrong.
This is inflammatory because there is no wrong answer in this scenario; there is, however, the distinction of which is good and which is better.
For many years now, I have seen how the NBA embraced wholeheartedly their role as a partner in addressing social issues. Now I am curious if NBA players think the league is not doing enough, or if the league—with its very high viewership from the regular season to the Finals—is not enough of an influencer that players are devising other ways to convey their commentary on social issues.
While I understand and find merit in the opposing views, I firmly believe that NBA players should play basketball once the season restarts, not because basketball distracts us from social issues; on the contrary, playing basketball especially in the NBA means being part of the effort in raising and spreading awareness on important social issues.
The NBA has always been an active citizen when it comes to taking part in social issues. We see players wearing statement apparel during games. We see them in the community with the full backing and support of the NBA doing real efforts to influence positive change as a response to recurring and long-standing social issues. We see NBA leveraging its popularity and reach for the sake of influencing social issues positively.
I think it is ill-advised to trivialize or dismiss the NBA as ‘just basketball’, and thus non-essential in times like this when the United States is in distress. The NBA is a platform, and those looking for one so that they can make a statement can use basketball to reach a large audience listening to what the NBA and NBA players want to say.
Joining marches is good; you have a big crowd listening to you. Using social media to speak out and be heard and help influence opinion and policy is good; you have a bigger crowd listening to you. But if you are an NBA player, you have an even bigger crowd you can direct your message to, without having to sacrifice your paycheck (NBA players not playing will not be paid their salary) and your slot in the team. Isn’t this better?
Refusing to play basketball is a statement, just as playing basketball in a league that has long supported racial equality and social justice is.