After two days of refusing to play games, NBA players returned to practice courts Friday with a renewed commitment from the league and team ownership to aid their fight for justice.
In a joint statement issued by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association, the league announced it will resume its postseason Saturday thanks to an agreement between all parties to intensify efforts for social betterment and against racial injustices.
In particular, the NBA and NBPA announced three commitments:
• The league, players and owners will establish a coalition “focused on a broad range of issues, including increasing access to voting, promoting civic engagement, and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.”
• Teams that own arenas will use those buildings as voting centers if possible.
• The league, players and broadcast partners will work on developing advertisements promoting “greater civic engagement in national and local elections and raising awareness around voter access and opportunity.”
“We understand how strong our voice is, how powerful our voice is,” said Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul, the president of the NBPA. “And ultimately we decided that if we go away from this stage, we don’t necessarily have that same platform. So, we stood in solidarity. We’re going to continue to play. But we’re also going to continue to make sure that our voices are heard. We’re about action. We’re about action, and that’s what our meeting was about, the real actions.”
The agreements came in response to two days of no basketball following the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to not play Game 5 of their series against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday. The Bucks said their decision was in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., 40 miles from their home arena.
Wednesday night, players gathered for the first in a string of meetings to discuss how to best proceed. Ending the season — walking out on the rest of the playoffs in the name of driving change — was considered, and in some cases, supported.
“The shootings that continue to happen, it creates a lot of unrest, a whole lot of unrest,” Paul said. “For us to have a predominantly African-American league, to see our black brothers shot and killed on a daily basis, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to us.
“Everyone expects us to go out and play; I get it. But we needed some time. All of us. We needed some time to refocus and understand that we can do that. We’re human at the end of the day.”
Players and coaches around the NBA stressed the importance of the two-day “break” from games.
“The key to this thing is that I think we all needed to take a breath,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We needed a moment to breathe. It’s not lost on me that George Floyd didn’t get that moment. But we did. And we took it. And the players took it, and they got to refocus on the things that they wanted to focus on outside of their jobs.”
Around the NBA, there was a sense that players were energized by the commitment they received from ownership, particularly when it comes to using arenas as voting centers and with a full-time commitment to work in concert.
Friday, the Clippers announced that The Forum in Inglewood, which owner Steve Ballmer bought in March, will be used for in-person voting and as a drop-off point for mail-in ballots. Arenas in Houston, Salt Lake City and New York are among those that recently announced plans to transform their buildings into polling places.
It’s been a commitment that the NBA’s coaches have made a priority. Friday, Houston’s Mike D’Antoni even wore a T-shirt with a large scannable QR code that could register a voter.
“Voting is the biggest thing,” Lakers guard Danny Green said.
The coalition with the owners will give players a direct line to the richest and, in most cases, most politically connected people in the NBA on specific issues. And hopefully, Houston guard Russell Westbrook said, it’ll be a commitment strengthened by accountability.
“That’s a step in making sure that things we discussed amongst each other in this partnership get done, and they get done in the fashion we both can agree on,” he said.
Rivers called that partnership “the future” of the NBA’s activism plan.
As players returned to work today, some NBA staffers in New York staged a walkout. The commissioner, in a letter to his colleagues obtained by The Times, committed the league to supporting NBA and WNBA players in their attempts to raise awareness about issues such as racism and brutality.
“I understand that some of you feel the league should be doing more,” commissioner Adam Silver wrote. “I hear you — and please know that I am focused on ensuring that we as a league are effecting real change both within our organization and in communities across the country.”
As games are set to resume Saturday — three games fittingly starting with the Bucks and including the Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers — players have felt empowered by the impact of the last 72 hours without competition.
“I know we’re heard because once the NBA stopped, everything else stopped,” Westbrook said. “And to me that shows a lot. That shows the platform, that shows the power of us as players. Our voices were heard.”