Explained: Black Lives Matter, social justice and NBA’s road to resumption

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Written by
Gaurav Bhatt
| New Delhi |

Updated: July 29, 2020 6:21:25 pm

LeBron James, the league’s biggest superstar, holds the key to the restart battle, and he has seemingly placed himself against former Cleveland co-star Irving.

NBA, the hugely popular American men’s professional basketball league, returns on Thursday (July 30). But long before they assembled inside the bio-bubble in Orlando, Florida, to play out the remainder of the season, the stars of NBA burst the bubble of the ‘stick-to-basketball’ crowd.

In the season of Black Lives Matter, popular athletes have turned their focus to reform of both police and society. Such was the strength of convictions that it drove a wedge among the players on the question of resumption. A coalition led by Kyrie Irving and Avery Bradley believed that basketball would distract from the movement; others, mainly megastar LeBron James, argued that a return to sports could serve as an even stronger vehicle for their message.

The league, meanwhile, embraced social justice in an unprecedented fashion. Here’s a look at how events unfolded.

‘NBA a distraction’: Irving’s rallying cry

Brooklyn Nets guard and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) vice-president Kyrie Irving led a conference call last month with about 80 players from both the NBA and WNBA. He was quoted as having said: “I don’t support going into Orlando. I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit. … Something smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.”

The Black Lives Matter movement is still going strong in the aftermath of the killing of African-Americans George Floyd and Breonna Taylor among others, and several athletes have joined the cause. There were concerns that the return of the NBA could distract people from real-world issues and nationwide reforms.

Irving’s sentiments were echoed by Los Angeles Lakers’ centre Dwight Howard and guard Avery Bradley, with the latter reportedly saying that the players should “play chess, not checkers.”

Howard too released a statement via his agent, saying: “I agree with Kyrie. 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.”

But Irving already has an NBA Championship to his name, for Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 along with LeBron James. And Howard, who is with the team and putting on a show, can earn his first in Orlando.

It is LeBron and Howard’s teammate Bradley who have t

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