Player Pushback Emerges as N.B.A. Works to Complete Restart Plans
The N.B.A. on Friday furnished teams with an expected timeline for the rest of the season but also notified them that it has not yet completed negotiations with the players’ union on the health and safety protocols that would govern the planned resumption of play at Walt Disney World Resort next month, according to a private memorandum obtained by The New York Times.
The delay in the release of the guidelines, which were widely expected on Friday, comes amid growing concerns among N.B.A. players about various aspects of the 22-team return-to-play plan. A summary of regulations for the campus at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla., might still come within the next few days, according to a league spokesman. But a number of players have voiced worries over the plan in recent days.
A primary concern is the restrictions on daily life that would be imposed on players in the so-called bubble environment conceived by the league to stave off the coronavirus. Perhaps an even more significant issue is the suggestion from some players that returning to work could divert the spotlight from, or even hamper, efforts made by numerous N.B.A. players to take an active role in the surging Black Lives Matter movement worldwide.
“I think guys are gathering to really talk about and dive deep into the idea of not playing,” Malcolm Brogdon of the Indiana Pacers told the New Orleans Pelicans’ JJ Redick on a podcast from The Ringer. The Pelicans and Pacers are included in the 22-team field.
In an interview with GQ, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, another team included in the format, said his teammates were “about split” on whether they were comfortable with the rules the N.B.A. was expected to impose to limit player movement within the bubble. The restrictions have been negotiated through weeks of talks between top league officials and a player group headed by Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul, the president of the National Basketball Players Association, but have not yet been disseminated to all players.
“A lot of my teammates are like: ‘Whatever, let’s play. Let’s hoop. If that’s what we’re gonna do and they’re saying it’s safe, then let’s do it,’” Lillard told GQ. Others, Lillard said, are asking, “‘Are we just doing this because we don’t want to miss out on this money?’ People just don’t know.”
It is not clear yet whether the surfacing player trepidation is merely 11th-hour concern as a summons to Florida draws near or a movement that could legitimately imperil the N.B.A.’s planned comeback. The league and union’s plans are at such an advanced stage that teams received a detailed outline of dates for the next four months in Friday’s memo.
Roughly 80 players, including some from the W.N.B.A., met on a conference call Friday night organized by the Nets’ Kyrie Irving. They discussed their reservations about playing amid the unrest over racial issues in the country, on top of coronavirus concerns, the challenges posed by the bubble environment the virus has necessitated and coming back after a layoff that reached the three-month mark Thursday. Although he’s a member of the union’s executive council, Irving has been one of the main figures behind this week’s player pushback about resuming the season, according to Bleacher Report.
The Nets’ Garrett Temple, who is also a member of the N.B.P.A.’s executive council, has countered Irving’s perspective in multiple interviews, insisting that the N.B.A.’s return would provide black players with a considerable stage to help fuel their push for social justice while also protecting their financial interests. Temple and Paul also participated in Friday’s conference call and Jared Dudley of the Los Angeles Lakers took to Twitter to warn his peers of the potentially dire financial consequences that players leaguewide could face if this season does not go ahead, since the N.B.A. would then have the ability to terminate its collective bargaining agreement with the union.
The current expectation is that players will be required to register two negative tests for the coronavirus upon arrival at Disney World and then must quarantine in their hotel rooms for up to 48 hours. Training camps would run from July 9 through July 29 — with up to three intrasquad scrimmages per team from July 21 to 29 — before regular-season and playoff games take place from July 30 through Oct. 13.
Players’ families and friends, according to Friday’s memo, would not be allowed into the bubble before Aug. 30 — at which point 14 of the 22 teams will have been eliminated. It is also expected that any N.B.A. player found leaving the bubble without authorization would be required to quarantine for 10 days before being allowed to play.
Yahoo reported that there was “a significant number” of players disappointed that the union’s vote last Friday to approve the 22-team format and playoff structure was conducted solely among 28 of the 30 teams’ player representatives, not the union’s full membership. In addition to their concerns about resuming a full-contact indoor sport during a continuing pandemic, some players believe it would be “bad optics” for a league in which an estimated 80 percent of players are African-American to play games amid the vast protests against systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis, Yahoo reported.
“Look at the lengths that we’re going to play a basketball game when there’s something so much greater going on — something so much more meaningful going on that really needs us,” Lillard told GQ. “So I mean it’s a battle every day for me, man.”
“I’ve talked to a few guys that are super interested in sitting out possibly,” Brogdon said on Redick’s podcast. “Some guys are going to say, ‘For health reasons, like Covid and the long-term effects that we don’t understand about Covid, I want to sit out.’ Other guys are going to say: ‘The black community and my people are going through too much for me to basically be distracted with basketball. I’m not going to prioritize this over the black community, I’m going to sit out.’”
ESPN reported this week that players who chose not to play would forfeit their salaries for games missed but would not otherwise be sanctioned by their teams or the league.
Also on Friday, Florida recorded the state’s biggest daily increase to date with 1,902 new coronavirus cases — 95 of them in Orange County where Disney World is.