NBA Season – In or Out?

From the looks of things it appears more and more like there be a conclusion to the 2019/20 NBA season. But not without some issues. Over the past week some opposition has emerged amongst the players to rolling out this experiment. Now while that probably won’t kill the idea, there are a few bumps in the road now in the form of competing views. There are several players with competing and strangely coinciding interests here. Here they are:

The Owners

The owners are most concerned about money, let’s not get it twisted. Most importantly their television money. Resuming the 2019-20 season, and setting up the 2020-21, is necessary because of the local and national TV contracts. If there’s no basketball on TV there is the strong possibility (lot of theories as to what exactly gets forfeited in this scenario) that the TV contracts will get voided or will have at least been violated which would put the owners in the position of having to renegotiate under much less favorable terms. Yes there are some owners who real fans of basketball to boot but they’re all about the money.

Lebron James

Of all the players Lebron James has been the most visible and vocal about wanting to finish the 19/20 season before getting on to 20/21, and for me it was really weird at first given that Lebron has not been one to be so nakedly on the same page as the owners. But it doesn’t take long to put the pieces together to what the agenda is here. Lebron’s Lakers were a favorite to win the West and go the Finals, and it’s real iffy as to whether or not his beat teammate Anthony Davis is coming back or moving on in free agency for next season. At this late stage in his career every lost chance at a ring is one that he won’t get back so Lebron is in desperation mode.

Selfish? Well yeah it’s selfish. Transparently selfish, too. This is also the unintended consequence of the ‘Rings or bust’ culture that exists around Hall of Fame NBA players. Lebron has three while the people he’s mentioned with have five, six, up to eleven of them. Any chance at getting closer to Kobe (5), Magic (5), Jordan (6), or Kareem (6) requires getting one in 2020; if this season is just flushed due to COVID 19 then it just isn’t happening and Lebron’s standing in league history will be more debatable. Does being that obsessed sound crazy and dare I say….Jordan-esque? Well yeah. But to be fair we’ve put that on him as much as he’s put it on himself. Ever since we made that a mandatory achievement for Michael Jordan to be crowned best player in the world and then best player of all time, and denigrated men whose only career sin was losing to him in the playoffs for not getting one, we’ve thrown all common sense out of the window when evaluating careers.

Kyrie Irving

Kyrie has put himself out there as the leader of the opposition to restarting the season. Which is actually his job seeing as how he’s Vice President of the NBA Player’s Association, a piece of information that cannot be forgotten among all this. He’s not the only one who feels like he does, and even if he didn’t someone within union leadership should speak up for those who don’t want to play under these circumstances. As irritating or frustrating as other players, the owners, and maybe even you may find it he is doing his job here

What’s working against Kyrie here is his reputation for being somewhat of a flake. Kyrie has previously dabbled in flat earth theory is some interviews and has been labeled a guy who goes off on a million tangents answering one question. He also said not too long along that he was on board with coming down to Orlando to restart things. Now these things have all been floated by league friendly media guys so you gotta keep that in mind before you pass judgement on the guy. Outside some asinine weekend tweets from a few guys I won’t mention what you hear is that Kyrie isn’t bad so much as he’s just a bit of a weirdo and that what he’s saying now may be totally different from what he says in two weeks, which is a sneaky way of telling us to pay him no mind.

The other players

For a while we only really heard from Lebron and maybe a few other guys, and we were presented a narrative that so long as the terms of things like payment, schedule, and accommodations could be agreed on that everyone was good with finishing the 2019/20 season this summer. But now we know that isn’t true. On this call several guys reportedly spoke out against resuming the season, and a few sports media folks who aren’t made guys and gals at ESPN of Fox (namely Taylor Rooks at Bleacher Report and Robert Littal from BlackSportsOnline) reported hearing disapproval from several other players in their own conversations.

So it’s not as cut and dried as you may think. There are concerns over housing, be it sequestering themselves away from their families or bringing their family to be in a bubble for several weeks, and many do not want to be a part of anything that can take attention off the protests and the push for real action on police practices. The fear is that once there’s something else to do some people will go do it, particularly white people who may be losing interest once it’s not a fad anymore.

What’s the right way to go?

Like a lot of you I wanted the NBA to come back, mainly so we could have something to chew on this summer that was gloom and doom. And when the protests started I honestly did not see resuming the season as any threat to their place in the news. But after hearing what some of the players are saying I do get where they’re coming from. As we saw with the coronavirus there are a lot of people who will gladly accept an exit ramp from having to continue to focus on the issue at hand, even as it persists and does not go away. This goes double for issues that some people are able to avoid because they aren’t directly affected by them. Not wanting to play for that reason is a totally valid take to have and should be listened to.

At the same time you can also make the argument that the media is already trying to move on anyway. Once the rioters in several cities were identified as mostly not being affiliated with the protesters and more marches went off without any of that the coverage began to slowly tamp down. And now with coronavirus infections going back up and election season approaching they very much want to move on now. Which means that the NBA may not affect anything.

Then there’s also this to consider from Bomani Jones:

And he’s right. This won’t be solved in one summer. Whatever progress is managed to be made is only the first step and it’s going to take years, long after even some of the most dedicated and energetic followers will have lost some steam to keep going. The ‘now what?’ question applies here quite well. And not just from an attention standpoint. Money isn’t an insignificant thing here, no matter the morals behind it.

The league stands to lose $2 billion and the players $1.2 billion in income if the rest of the 2019/20 season is lost. That’s not a rounding error or something, that’s huge. One thing the pandemic has exposed is just how many big businesses and supposedly super rich people are leveraged up to their eyeballs or dependent on business models that can be easily obliterated. The owners won’t be homeless or anything but several of them were already staring financial ruin down in their other businesses and cannot afford for this source of revenue to take this loss.

And the player’s aren’t all making $20 million a year with no worries about losing two or three of that. There are guys making the league minimum who just got into the league or are on their last legs who could use that final portion of what may be their final yearly salary, even at a prorated amount. There are guys who haven’t hit the big money yet, or never will, who could use that piece of salary. In short, some players need the money.

You can see where I’m going here. Most of the incentives are to finish the season, and the few to not play aren’t certain to have the intended payoff. So yeah I think going for is the best move. Now the guys who don’t want to play and just want to focus on the protests, raising money, etc could do just that. To be honest some guys choosing not to play and speaking on it could be better as far as keeping the story out there. No season at all is a one day on the news, one week on ESPN story. A continuing action against the backdrop of a season on the other hand, may keep it alive longer.

So no matter the motivations, play on I say, while those who feel strongly enough can carry on as they have been doing to bring and keep awareness to the efforts on the ground. Everybody wins that way.

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