A few weeks ago, the countdown was fully on to the NBA’s 2019-2020 season continuation in the midst of the corona virus pandemic the USA faces as cases of infection continue to rise. However, a major shift has taken place that has changed the focus to a countdown to June 24 when players are to determine whether they would play the remainder of the season or not. This issue has come to the fore in recent days because a group of players have voiced their dissatisfaction about the NBA’s lack of support to African-American communities in the face of systemic racism sweeping through the US and the world at large.
This has put them in a position to boycott the league to force the issue to be addressed better than it has up until this point. Playing games in their view would be a distraction to the major course they are fighting since not playing is a very strong signal from athletes who make up 80% of the world’s greatest basketball league. Another credible reason championed by the group that has Avery Bradley and Dwight Howard fronting it is the health danger that comes with playing at this point in time.
Irrespective of the extensive measures put in place by the league to protect players from getting infected with COVID 19, there are legitimate concerns since it hasn’t proven to be 100% full proof even if they are set to play in the bubble of Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The sunshine state has 82,719 confirmed cases of COVID 19 at the time of writing with 3,018 deaths and more worryingly, the numbers have increased sharply this week and likely to climb even higher. Every group needs a good leader and one that fails to have one is in line to fail along with championing the issue that brought them together in the first place.
Howard and Bradley are notable names leading the NBA player protests but the personality heavily associated with the movement is Brooklyn Nets Guard Kyrie Irving. The former Cleveland Cavaliers player doesn’t support a return to action on the court since it takes attention from the concerns of racism in America. He has gone further to push for players to breakaway and form a new league which should get Lavar Ball’s ears buzzing. As noble as Irving’s stance is, his personality drives a wedge in the movement and could dumb the concerns down and here is why.
Alexander the Great led from the front during his wars ditto Hannibal and Dr. Martin Luther King led from the front to demand for freedom for African-Americans. On the other hand, Kyrie’s shoulder injury prevents him from competing in the league this season; basically a player who wasn’t going to play irrespective of the circumstances as the protest leader doesn’t sit right. His tactics are also put into question because he isn’t in line to lose money and cache to leverage for more money in the future by sitting out the rest of the season.
The same argument could be raised against Howard and Bradley who are veteran players and have accumulated generational money over the course of their careers. Even if they forfeit league salary, Kyrie and Howard have endorsement deals with Nike and Peak and other companies to keep them nicely compensated. NBA Legend Charles Barkley argued for players to play out the season because once they don’t play, they negate the biggest platform they have to voice out for change and as he put it, “out of sight, out of mind”. As things stand, Kyrie is out of sight since he is inactive to play and this situation could push their intentions out of mind too.
Another reason is pretty plain and simple; he is not LeBron James. Like him or not, LeBron is the face of the NBA and has been for the past decade-the previous decade belonged to Kobe-and since he wants to play out the season, the league is sure to go on as planned. When LeBron speaks, people and more importantly, the true big names in the industry and beyond listen and other stars like Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook and reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo are on LeBron’s side. While Kyrie is a big star, he surely doesn’t rank in the hyper zone of superstars listed above and league authorities should feel confident to see this season through since it has the truly heavy hitters on its side.
After producing a diplomatic response to the racism cry, the NFL went out of its way to show support course by pledging $250 million over the next ten years and having Commissioner Roger Goodell apologize for not listening to player protests in prior years. Apparently, the league’s biggest draw (Patrick Mahomes’) appearance in a video supporting anti-racism movement got the league to wake up. Had Mahomes and to a large extent Deshaun Watson not been involved, the league wouldn’t have should that level of support if the video had just Odell Beckham Jnr., Jarvis Landry and Deandre Hopkins in it
Lastly, Kyrie’s stance on past issues alienates him and lessens the impact of his latest stance. In past years, the former Boston Celtics player has voiced his belief that the earth is flat and not round as championed by Isaac Newton in the 17th Century. On the main matter of racism, Irving was reportedly implicated as the headline act of an “only white girl’s party” to celebrate winning the 2016 NBA title during his time at Cleveland. While he denied this, getting associated with such a discrediting act like this makes one wonder if he is really the right guy to lead this protest.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter