75 days ago, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski described Kyrie Irving as a disruptor to the NBA’s ambitious plans to resume a season impacted by the coronavirus pandemic in a bubble environment, far away from friends and family with strict protocols galore.
Kyrie Irving told NBA players on call Friday, sources tell @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium: “I don’t support going into Orlando. I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit. Something smells a little fishy.”
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 13, 2020
If those words came from someone other than Irving, a divisive star previously criticised for his outspoken views, perhaps it would have been treated differently.
It didn’t though, making him an easy scapegoat – especially after having season-ending shoulder surgery meaning the six-time All-Star guard wouldn’t be playing anyway.
The hypocrisy of those saying these players are brave to stand up now, yet were also among those criticising Irving, is clear for all to see.
An excerpt from Woj’s piece read:
“Once we start playing basketball again, the news will turn from systemic racism to who did what in the game last night. It’s a crucial time for us to be able to play and blend that and impact what’s happening in our communities,” one widely respected NBA player told ESPN.
“We are asking ourselves, ‘Where and how can we make the biggest impact?’ Mental health is part of the discussion too, and how we handle all of that in a bubble.”
Whether players will admit it or not, competing every night in the bubble has detracted from the very same issues they’re advocating to change in their neighbourhoods.
Yet here we are, at the end of August and Kyrie’s concerns are finally being listened to – albeit not from him directly. After a three-month hiatus, the NBA’s shortened regular season returned on July 30 and the NBA Playoffs began three weeks later.
It’s not an exaggeration to describe it as a resounding success from a sporting standpoint: competitive, enthralling games and multiple storylines emerging from an unprecedented setting with no fans in attendance, but millions watching intently worldwide.
However, there are more important matters at hand. There always has been. So much so, that some players opted out of the resumption plan to begin with – whether for personal reasons, injury concerns or otherwise – and no-one can begrudge them their decisions.
Yesterday evening, the Milwaukee Bucks made a historic decision to boycott Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic.
The Milwaukee Bucks statement: pic.twitter.com/F7XOPs4NqE
— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) August 26, 2020
It was fitting that Sterling Brown and experienced veteran George Hill were the pair to make the public statement, too.
More than two-and-a-half years ago, Brown was the victim of police brutality after parking across two handicapped spots in a pharmacy late at night.
One wrong move and he could have died that evening. Hill questioned why they’re even playing in the bubble now to begin with, saying:
“First of all, we shouldn’t even have came to this damn place to be honest. Coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are.”
It’s why last weekend’s incident has especially hit home for Bucks players, most of whom live in Wisconsin.
George Floyd’s death prompted him to write this piece on the Players’ Tribune a few weeks before entering the bubble. Yet things haven’t changed since that night in 2018.
Other scheduled playoff matchups and teams subsequently followed suit across four US sports in protest of social injustice in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting on Sunday.
The police shot at him seven times after responding to a 911 call where Blake was attempting to de-escalate a fight between two women when officers arrived.
After being tased – despite not reacting violently – officer Rusten Sheskey fired at him as Blake opened the driver’s side door.
F THE GAMES AND PLAYOFFS!!! THIS IS SICK AND IS A REAL PROBLEM WE DEMAND JUSTICE! ITS CRAZY I DONT HAVE ANY WORDS BUT WTF MAN! THIS IS WHY WE DONT FEEL SAFE!!!! https://t.co/3E4Dd2wS3e
— Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) August 24, 2020
Now paralysed from the waist down, doctors are unsure whether it’ll be permanent but lawyers say it’ll be a “miracle” if he’s able to walk again.
This is precisely the sort of police brutality, where authorities are supposed to be trusted to “serve and protect” as their motto states, which prompts actions like these.
It was important for the Bucks to take a stand, as the shooting in question happened in Kenosha – their home state, 40 miles away from Milwaukee.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, either.
Others were already discussing the possibility of doing similar themselves in recent days, after impassioned press conferences from Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and LA Clippers head coach Doc Rivers to name a few.
Five-time All-Star Chris Webber, who retired in 2008 after a 15-year career, perhaps said it best during TNT’s special broadcast:
“If not now, when? During a pandemic, with countless lives being lost, when? We know nothing is going to change, we get it. We’ve seen it with all of our heroes, constantly getting taken down.
That doesn’t mean, young men, that you don’t do anything. You’re starting something for the next generation to take over. Do you have to be smart, have a plan and be articulate? Yes. But they are professionals and know how to be the best of themselves.”
Today, there’s been a pause in the Western & Southern Tennis Open tournament, to “take a stance against racial inequality and social injustice,” once again showing that it’s not just the game of basketball making a statement with their latest actions.
As for scheduled games tonight, they will also be postponed in a sign of solidarity and although everyone’s rushing to diagnose the next steps, this is an important first step.
Raising awareness is important and undoubtedly protests across the country will aim to seek justice for those who have done wrong – it’s not just Sheskey, but many more like him.
Jacob Blake will consider himself very fortunate to still be alive, considering the circumstances.
That in isolation sounds ridiculous to say – but Breonna Taylor, Stephon Clark and Eric Garner are among those in recent years who weren’t so lucky and had their lives taken away from them at the hands of police. However, these incidents just keep happening.
It’s not the first, won’t be the last time and despite criticism from those who don’t understand why players are refusing to play, they’re doing what they feel is right.
Figured the times were appropriate for a quick story pic.twitter.com/WhMVdoQnBU
— Maurice Harkless (@moe_harkless) August 26, 2020
It’s a shame we had to come to this position in the first place, during the middle of a pandemic, no less. Perhaps this is the only way voices will be heard. Maybe not immediately, but it’s obvious cliches, kneeling and slogans only go so far.
As for the playoffs, the cynic in me believes they’ll resume soon – there’s too much money at stake for all involved to stop now. Only time will tell whether we start seeing real change in future, because it’s not going to happen overnight.