NBA talks global pandemic, social justice, league restart with media

(Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images) /

On a conference call with media NBA officials and player reps spoke candidly about resuming play amid a pandemic and social unrest.

The NBA season’s restarting is not just about the resumption of games but about moving forward with social justice efforts in this country, Adam Silver said on a conference call with media Friday.

“In addition to working through a global pandemic and recession, our society is facing enormous social unrest, Silver said. “We’ve been working with Michele [Roberts], Chris [Paul] and Andre [Iguodala] and several other players on a shared goal that the season restart leads to collective action towards combating systematic racism and promoting social justice.”

“This includes strategies to increase black representation in all positions across the NBA and its teams, ensure greater inclusion of black-operated businesses across NBA business activities, and the formation of an NBA foundation to expand educational and economic development opportunities across the black community.”

The NBA is coming back, Silver said, “because sports matter in our society. They bring people together when we need it the most, and they can show how we can balance public health and economic necessity, plus a desire for shared experiences and something to cheer for through the months ahead.”

Also on the afternoon conference call were Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, Oklahoma City Thunder’s Chris Paul, NBPA president, and Miami Heat forward Andre Iguodala, who is the vice president of the NBPA.

Before the call, the NBA announced it had finalized a comprehensive plan for the July 30 restart to the 2019-20 season, including “stringent health and safety protocols, a single-site campus at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and the goal of taking collective action to combat systemic racism and promote social justice.”

They also announced earlier Friday that 16 NBA players tested positive for the Coronavirus of a total of 302 players tested. All involved are aware of the growing Covid-19 spike in several states, most notably Florida, but feel they are prepared. Players will be tested daily, at least to start, Silver said.

“Again, there’s no vaccine, but we needed to make sure that we could mitigate as much as possible with regard and reliance on the best that our experts could provide to us, a way for us to get back to playing, keep our players safe, keep our teams safe, and we did a lot of hard work, a lot of hard work,” Roberts said on the call.

“And in collaboration, we have come up with what I believe is the best protocol, not surprisingly, with the stamp of approval from Dr. [Anthony] Fauci himself,” Roberts continued. “We go into the restart of the season optimistic and excited that we can begin our game and not place any of our players or any of our family, the NBA family, at any risk.”

When asked whether his level of concern had increased over the past few days with the surge in cases in Florida, Silver said yes but maintains they have created a safe environment.

“The answer is yes, the level of concern has increased, not just because of the increased levels in Florida but throughout the country,” Silver said. “At least today I believe 29 of the 50 states have an increased number of cases. Of course, we designed our campus, in essence, to isolate ourselves from whatever the level of cases was in the surrounding community. But since we’ve designed our initial protocol, we are continuing to work with Disney on the testing of at least a subset of their employees that could potentially be in the same room with our players and anyone else who’s tested daily on our campus.”

“So we are satisfied that once we work through those additional measures with Disney, we will continue to have a safe setting for us to resume our season.”

Silver said in the unfortunate case of a significant spread of the virus throughout the community: “that ultimately might lead us to stopping, but we’re working closely with the Players’ Association, with Disney and public health officials in Florida as to what that line should be, and it hasn’t been precisely designed. I think we just want to get down on the ground and start to see how our testing is working and how the protocols are working and then we’ll make decisions as we go.”

Paul, president of the player’s union, said players are comfortable moving forward even with so many uncertainties.”

“I think it’s sort of like what Adam said in that we don’t really know. Like everything that’s happening right now is — it takes time, right,” he said. “We never pictured ourselves playing in a situation like this, and I almost think from the day after the league kind of shut down and stopped, we didn’t know. We didn’t know that when the situation happened in our game against Utah that that was going to bring everything to a halt, to a stop, but I think the communication and just everybody talking about it. So I think that’s what will happen in this situation.”

“Like we’re so lucky to have so many players who are aware and conscious and know what’s going on and aware of everything that’s going on,” he said. “So I think given any scenario, we would do as we do in any situation; we would talk about it and see what it looks like.”

“We have a great group of players who are well informed,” Iguodala added, “who have been doing homework on the whole situation all the way through the scope of the landscape of the environment that we’re in, from the COVID to the social injustices, and the players have done a great job of just voicing themselves and using their platforms to be more well-informed.”

Participants on the conference called also responded to questions on the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and racial unrest and the league’s commitment to pushing the social justice agenda forward.

“As far as the players are concerned,” Roberts said, “I think at the end of the day this is a platform where because of the game and because of the popularity of the game and more specifically the popularity of our players, the world is going to be watching, and the more the guys talk about it, the more this is the platform where the world will be watching.”

“We’ve been spending a lot of time going from dealing with the outbreak to spending hours on the phone talking about the ways we want to engage players and the community and keeping the conversation going.”

“I think the thing for us as players and the league is like we all understand, too, like I said, we’re aware we’re not just basketball players,” said Paul. “We are — like me, I’m a black African-American with kids and a wife and a family and stuff like that, so everything that you’ve seen from George Floyd to Breonna Taylor to Rayshard Brooks, and related to Elijah McClain, you see this stuff.”

“So we can’t act like we don’t because these are our communities, these are the streets that we walk on, that we’re raised on, that we grew up on, so we’re aware.”

“We also understand how powerful our voice is, and so even if we’re back to playing, we understand that our voice can still be heard, our message can still be screamed loud and clear on an unbelievable platform, so just know that you’re going to continue to hear us,” he said.

“Just know that. It’s never a shut-up-and-dribble situation. You’re going to continue to hear us and see us.”

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