LOS ANGELES — After Friday’s NBA players’ group call revealed just how adamant a faction of the league is against resuming the season in Orlando, Florida, next month, members of the Los Angeles Lakers insist that ample time remains to get their team on the same page.
“[There’s] no divide,” one Lakers player told ESPN.
“Still have some time to figure things out as a league and as a team,” another Lakers player told ESPN.
Among the dissenting voices on the call that featured nearly 100 players were Lakers backup center Dwight Howard and starting shooting guard Avery Bradley, sources told ESPN. Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving was a driving influence on the call.
The Lakers were initially concerned that Howard planned to sit out the rest of the season to focus on the social injustices facing black people in the United States based on the sentiments he shared on the call and the subsequent statement he issued, sources told ESPN.
Howard’s agent, Charles Briscoe, told ESPN on Sunday that his client hasn’t made a decision about playing basketball again this season because basketball is the furthest thing from his mind at this moment.
“The statement was about social injustice and racism,” Briscoe said. “Yet everybody is still talking about whether basketball should be played. He isn’t saying that basketball shouldn’t be. He’s just saying that you should not be taking attention away from what’s going on in the country to talk about basketball. Basketball is just a sport, at the end of the day. But what’s going on with people dying in the streets, that’s something real. That statement, it had nothing to do with sports. It had everything to do with racism and social injustice.”
One Lakers player who has not publicly opposed the NBA season restart plan is LeBron James. The LA Clippers’ Patrick Beverley on Sunday echoed James’ desire to play, tweeting, “Hoopers say what y’all want. If @KingJames said he hooping. We all hooping. Not Personal only BUSINESS #StayWoke”
Howard’s statement, provided through his agent, to CNN on Saturday (edited below for clarity) was interpreted by some as if the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year did not plan to play:
“I agree with Kyrie,” the statement read. “Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction. Sure it might not distract us the players, but we have resources at hand [the] majority of our community don’t have. And the smallest distraction for them, can start a trickle-down effect that may never stop.
“Especially with the way the climate is now. I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA championship. But the unity of my people would be an even better championship, that’s just too beautiful to pass up.
“What better time than now for us to be focusing on our families? This is a rare opportunity that, I believe, we as a community should be taking full advantage of. When have we ever had this amount of time to sit and be with our families? This is where our unity starts. At home! With family!!
“European colonization stripped us of our rich history and we have yet to sit down and figure us out. The less distractions, the more we can put into action into rediscovering ourselves. Nations come out of families. Black/African-American is not a nation or nationality. It’s time our families become their own nations. No basketball ’til we get things resolved.”
It was Bradley’s idea, sources said, to organize his teammates to issue a shared statement on their social media accounts after George Floyd was killed while in police custody after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
“If YOU ain’t wit US, WE ain’t wit Y’ALL!” the statement read, shared by 14 of the 15 players on the Lakers’ roster. The only player not to post it was Bradley, who does not have an active social media profile.
The 34-year-old Howard signed with the Lakers in the offseason after the team scrambled to fill the roster spot vacated after DeMarcus Cousins injured his knee injury in a summer pickup game. Howard requested a non-guaranteed contract to prove to L.A. how much the opportunity meant to him after his first stint with the franchise went awry. The signing ended up being a bargain for the salary cap-strapped Lakers, with the team gladly guaranteeing the remainder of Howard’s $2.56 million veterans-minimum contract in January.
Howard’s presence helped the Lakers put together the league’s third-ranked defense, in terms of defensive efficiency, at the time of the coronavirus hiatus in mid-March — allowing a stingy 105.5 points per 100 possessions.
He averaged 7.5 points on 73.2% shooting, 7.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 19.2 minutes per game, filling in off the bench for starting center JaVale McGee.
Bradley, signed to a two-year, $9.7 contract in the offseason, was also a key contributor on the defensive end, often drawing the opposition’s toughest perimeter assignment.