Opinion: NBA players face plenty of questions with no easy answers on resuming season

Opinion: NBA players face plenty of questions with no easy answers on resuming season

Just as the NBA informed all 30 teams about various restart dates for the 2019-20 season, players debated internally if they should even have one.

Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving organized a conference call to discuss concerns about playing amid a pandemic, racial strife and with varying quarantine restrictions. Did Irving represent the sentiment of most NBA players that felt the league and union hastily approved 22 teams to resume the season beginning on July 30 in Orlando? Or does Irving’s view reflect only a select handful of the players?

Considering that about 330 players are scheduled to be a part of a resumed season, it should not be surprising if some of them have any misgivings about the plan. Since when do that many people ever agree on everything? Even if the NBA’s executive committee and player representatives have frequent Zoom calls to keep everyone informed, it does not seem unreasonable that some may feel out of the loop on the day-to-day proceedings. That often happens in the game of telephone, especially during quarantine life where face-to-face conversations have become almost non-existent.

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Regardless, this latest twist necessitates the need for the NBA players union to have clarity on the following questions.

Did the players union fully account for these concerns when they approved the NBA’s plan last week? Or did that vote mostly reflect only influential NBA stars that want to win a championship and salvage their earnings? Did the player reps do enough to keep their teammates informed? Or were certain players left out of the loop simply because they did not attend the needed meetings or read all the text message chains? Are players simply having second thoughts amid daily developments about the coronavirus pandemic, ongoing protests against racial inequality and what a quarantine bubble might look like?

Some in NBA circles believe Irving has just gone rogue. Some sense other players share Irving’s viewpoint, but they are in the minority. And then some wonder if Irving, a member of the players union executive committee, is simply speaking for the voiceless.

The players need to wrestle with these questions because they should have the final say on if the NBA actually salvages the rest of the season. They are assuming the most risk by playing at a place where the daily infection rate has grown increasingly. They are making the sacrifices by staying in a bubble under quarantine initially without any family members they might need to support. And they are playing the most influential role with determining whether the NBA can recoup its financial losses by playing before a television audience craving any live sports programming.

The tricky part is players arguably also have the most to lose. If they cancel the season, the players could lose their salaries because of the force majeure clause. They could lose their future free-agency earnings in upcoming summers since basketball-related income determines each season’s salary cap. And they could lose out on keeping the NBA’s current labor agreement intact and compromise the strong partnership they have built with Commissioner Adam Silver and the league’s 30 owners.

The consequences with resuming a season could involve losing a life. The consequences with canceling a season could involve losing money. If viewed through that prism, it should not take much thought which path the players should choose. The only problem is weighing all the variables that make it a difficult decision.

By age demographic, NBA players are considered the lowest risk both to contract COVID-19 and to die from it. Some argue they would remain safer in Orlando under quarantine. They would be tested and treated daily. Disney employees would be required to clean any player's room only when they are not present. They would wear a mask and gloves and stay at least 12 feet apart if they see one. Restaurant employees would remain at the same venue to avoid staff turnover. Regardless, a player could still contract the disease on the court, in the locker room or in a meeting space.

Players might be sensitive to staying away from family members and loved ones that need their support. But the six non-playoff teams will be back home by Aug. 16, just about five weeks after reporting to Orlando. The NBA also approved for a limited number of family members and guests to stay with players on Aug. 30, after the first round of the playoffs conclude. By then, only eight teams would remain on site. Could players go six weeks, though, without being able to take care of their elders, significant others or children? Could those families unintentionally compromise the bubble?

Players might be sensitive to the optics of competing during these unique times. Is it worth the players’ livelihood just to entertain a general public in need of a distraction? Or should they have perspective that they will be paid handsomely, while millions remain out of work? Would playing in an NBA game shift the conversation about their role addressing racial inequality through protests, voter registration drives or charitable causes? Or would the NBA season offer an elevated platform for players to address these issues during pre-game tributes and post-game interviews?

No owners, coaches, agents, media members or fans can fully answer these questions without acknowledging their own self-interest. Only the players can. Yet, it is not clear how the players fully feel about those questions. That is understandable. There are not easy answers. Regardless, they will have to come up with an answer soon.

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/columnist/mark-medina/2020/06/12/nba-players-resume-season-many-questions-no-easy-answers/3180327001/

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