Opinion:Participating in the NBA Season, Not Sitting Out, is the Best Way for Players to Support BLM
Updated: Oct 18, 2021
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author.
On July 30, after months of deliberation over the venue and safety protocols, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is set to resume its season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. Players and league officials alike were initially publicly unanimous in their support of the plan to resume the season, which halted play in early March due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. But then four Minneapolis police officers murdered George Floyd.
Now, as the country faces its biggest reckoning over race in a decade, a growing group of players worry that the season restart could distract from necessary conversations about systemic racism and police brutality. Thus, in an effort to derail the restart plan, a number of athletes, most notably Brooklyn Nets superstar Kyrie Irving, have urged players to boycott the resumed season in Orlando. However, if players are aiming to show their support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, sitting out of the resumed NBA season and attempting to prevent it from happening altogether is not the right decision.
For Irving and other prominent players calling to boycott the NBA’s restart, sitting out the season is a viable option. Players could forfeit up to 25 percent of their annual salary if the restart plan ultimately fails to get off the ground, but for Irving, who has a reported net worth of $90 million and pulls in an annual average salary of $34,122,650 (nearly 200 times the minimum NBA salary), this amounts to a mere blip on the radar. The same, however, cannot be said for the non-superstars of the NBA, as the median salary for the 2019-20 league year was approximately a tenth of Irving’s paycheck. If Irving’s plan is successful and the NBA indeed does not complete this year’s season, the effect on the lower paid players of the NBA could be extremely detrimental.
Furthermore, Irving and others are under the assumption that the NBA restart would distract from BLM. However, 81.9 percent of players in the NBA are of color, of which many are among the highest-paid athletes on the planet. In an era in which the NBA has taken legitimate steps to empower players and build a diverse and inclusive league, two months of basketball on national television with millions of viewers would not distract from BLM but instead inherently draw attention to it.
That being said, beyond just resuming, the NBA and its athletes should take certain measures to further assuage the fears of Irving and others. For one, the NBA should paint its courts with ‘Black Lives Matter’ as protesters and local governments have on streets all across the country. NBA players should also wear apparel in support of BLM and victims of police brutality as LeBron James did in 2015 following the death of Eric Garner. Finally, top players and league officials should commit to donating a specific percentage of their salaries to BLM and affiliated organizations. Such actions will cement the season restart as a celebration of the BLM movement, and quiet concerns that it will hinder the country’s current conversations over race.