ORLANDO, Fla. — Upon further review, the games will continue.
A hectic 24 hours that included, in no specific order: A Bucks walkout, Michael Jordan, heated debates, the resounding voice of Doc Rivers, political demands, the NBA Board of Governors, reform demands, Zoom calls and a conclusive desire to finish what was started, all resulted in an about-face and overnight second thoughts that put the NBA playoffs back in play, which will get restarted on Saturday.
The players who pressed pause on the season didn’t get everything they wanted — improbable, considering the justice system doesn’t move so swiftly — but enough to convince them that returning to basketball and the platform afforded to them at the Walt Disney World campus made the most sense. And here we are, with the restart of the restart seemingly set for Saturday.
If the intention of the Bucks and other playoff teams was to use their two-day refusal to play to stay on message and make it resonate, then mission accomplished … with an exclamation. The brotherhood in pro sports took notice and followed the lead as games in other leagues were canceled or postponed across America. Heaps of praise came in a downpour from many corners, all saluting NBA players for their awareness.
The conversation about systemic racism and police misconduct was instantly raised and it thrust the NBA into the mainstream, not only here but worldwide. The most progressive sports league and its players once again became leaders in that regard.
Yet the players weren’t satisfied. They wanted something actionable. They pressed the league governors on other issues, mainly asking — demanding? — them to reform their own behavior regarding political contributions, social justice programs, voter registration, community presence and applying pressure to local governments to force action on issues the players feel are roadblocks and deterrents to progress.
Here’s what the players wanted that wasn’t accomplished: Legislation change that would lead to faster arrests in Kenosha, Wisc., and Louisville, Ky., and other places where Black men were shot by police.
That would’ve required them to sit out this season and maybe even a portion of next season, which in hindsight was a false hope by the Bucks when they listed their reasons for skipping Wednesday’s first-round playoff game with the Orlando Magic.
Also, there was considerable debate among players about the action the Bucks took by skipping that game. Those players claimed they were blindsided — clearly, the Magic didn’t know because they took the court for pregame warm-ups — and were annoyed by Milwaukee’s neglect to consult them. In addition, a segment of players in a meeting Wednesday night were reportedly against walking out on the season, putting them at odds with others who were receptive to that.
Oklahoma City guard Chris Paul, the president of the National Basketball Players Association, lobbied Rivers to address the room. Rivers has been the face of social justice in Orlando, speaking emotionally and smartly about police reform and systemic racism, so he was invited. Rivers was in favor of saving the playoffs and listed his reasons for that, while also urging players to get ownership more involved with issues in a show of force.
“They wanted me to talk and I really didn’t want to talk, I just wanted it to be a player’s thing,” the Clippers coach told Fox Sports West. “But he urged me to just say something. And I did. But what I really liked about it was just how many different viewpoints there were. It works me up.”
Doc Rivers is prepared to have more uncomfortable conversations.
— FOX Sports West (@FoxSportsWest) August 28, 2020
If the Wednesday decision by the Bucks was an emotional one — understandable, since the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha was so close to home — the Thursday decision to resume play was a more rational one, given the circumstances and the stakes (financial and otherwise).
Boycotting the season, while commendable, would’ve had unintended consequences. In that sense, there would be victims caught in friendly crossfire, such as the NBA itself, its TV partners, the possibility of staff layoffs or furloughs (by the league, its teams and network partners). It might have even endangered the hotel workers at the Disney campus collecting paychecks during a pandemic.
Jordan took part in the joint conference meeting with players and team owners and his presence was certainly not a coincidence. As a former player and the current owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Jordan knows both sides of the fence and served as a bond. He helped both sides understand each other’s concerns and thoughts.
There’s another factor that possibly played in the player’s decision to stay. Family members are already on campus and should clear quarantine by the weekend. They will have a soothing presence for players. Rivers mentioned as much when he discussed the challenges of being on campus for more than two months and the toll on mental health it’s taking on some players.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that everyone in this bubble just seems to be a little more emotional,” he said. “Part of the thing about being jammed together has had that effect. Being in the bubble is hard.”
And so, the schedule is expected to resume Saturday with the postponed games of three days earlier, starting with Bucks-Magic, then Rockets-Thunder and Lakers-Blazers — all of which were originally Game 5s in each series.
A day after the season was thrown in limbo, the players by all accounts regained their desire for the game. Rivers was encouraged not only by what he saw during their meeting, but also afterward.
“I’m sitting there while the player meeting breaks and I see all these different players from different teams walking together,” he said. “And they have pride, like ‘We’re trying to get something done.’ And I’m sitting with (Clippers assistant coach) Ty Lue and said, ‘Man, look at these guys. This is awesome.’ And Ty said the same thing. So, it’s been pretty cool.”
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