The Los Angeles Lakers will have big hopes for the revived NBA season once it begins on July 31, but two players still appear uneasy on returning to play.
Those two would be Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley, who were both on the call organized by Kyrie Irving to address concerns about their return interfering with the fight against racial injustice, per ESPN. More than 80 NBA and WNBA players were on the call, per Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes.
Howard has released a statement saying basketball is not needed and “will only be a distraction” from the movement that has emerged following the death of George Floyd. Meanwhile, Lakers superstar LeBron James reportedly wants to play and believes doing so won’t undermine the pursuit for social justice reform.
Are the Lakers divided?
An unnamed Lakers player claimed to ESPN that the Lakers aren’t divided, while another said the team has time to figure it out. The revived season begins on July 31, with players required to report to Disney World on June 22.
“[There’s] no divide,” one Lakers player told ESPN.
“Still have some time to figure things out as a league and as a team,” another Lakers player told ESPN.
Obviously, you could very much say there appears to be a divide among Laker players. Howard clearly has concerns even as his team’s leader pushes for a return.
That apparently doesn’t mean Howard is fully against a return, though, as his agent released the following statement to ESPN:
“The statement was about social injustice and racism,” Howard’s agent, Charles Briscoe, said. “Yet everybody is still talking about whether basketball should be played. He isn’t saying that basketball shouldn’t be. He’s just saying that you should not be taking attention away from what’s going on in the country to talk about basketball. Basketball is just a sport, at the end of the day. But what’s going on with people dying in the streets, that's something real. That statement, it had nothing to do with sports. It had everything to do with racism and social injustice.”
This is clearly a sensitive issue among the NBA’s players, and likely a situation playing out among most of the 22 teams heading to Disney World. There has never been a better time for athletes to speak out against racial injustice, and some might see it as a responsibility to do everything they can to help the cause even if it means costing themselves and the rest of the basketball world a few more months without basketball.
Former NBA veteran Stephen Jackson — a friend of Floyd’s and among the most outspoken voices in sports right now — seems against the return. Plenty of players on that Irving call are probably in the same camp. And there is one other big reason to think congregating in Florida isn’t the best decision right now.
Still, it seems likely James’ voice will end up being more powerful for the Lakers and others, judging from one tweet from a veteran on one of his biggest competitors.
It’s a surreal situation that an NBA championship could be partially decided by which team is best at convincing its players that they won’t undermine the fight for social justice, but that’s just one small part of a surreal year.
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