Doc Rivers: NBA 'needed a moment to breathe' that George Floyd didn't get

Jason Owens
·4 min read

Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has been the leading voice from inside the NBA bubble as the league and its players grapple with social justice issues.

It was appropriate that he was one of the first to speak Friday after the NBA and players union announced their plan to resume play after three days of postponed games amid a player walkout to protest the Jacob Blake shooting.

Rivers spoke with reporters Friday afternoon and gave an inside look into the talks between players, ownership and commissioner Adam Silver as they worked out a solution that allowed for the resumption of play alongside addressing larger societal issues.

“The players and the owners are partners,” Rivers said. “It didn’t have to be a contentious meeting, and it wasn’t. Adam and the owners were on board with most of it or all of it. And even the things that they didn’t come to an agreement on, they discussed.”

NBA’s collaboration a stark contrast to other leagues

Rivers words reflect a longstanding truth about the NBA. One of the league’s greatest strengths is the relationship between labor and management alongside Silver’s leadership. That strength and communication between parties has resulted in the overwhelming success of the bubble that has set the standard for the resumption of sports amid the pandemic.

Contrast the NBA’s approach with the bickering between management and labor and the divisive leadership of commissioner Rob Manfred leading up to MLB’s shortened season. Then compare the success of the NBA’s restart with baseball’s outbreak of COVID-19 cases that spread across multiple teams almost as soon as play resumed.

The NBA has also largely supported players and coaches using their platforms to advocate for social justice causes. It’s a stark contrast to the dysfunction of the NFL that blackballed Colin Kaepernick and only recently admitted it was wrong amid overwhelming external pressure in the aftermath of Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Doc Rivers has long carried one of the NBA's most salient voices. He continues to amplify that role in the bubble. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)
Doc Rivers has long carried one of the NBA's most salient voices. He continues to amplify that role in the bubble. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)

Rivers: Players, league needed the break

Wednesday’s walkout wasn’t simply about enacting change — though that was a more than significant piece of it. But players were reeling. Emotions were high as players entered the bubble amid a deadly pandemic, locked away from their family and friends. Some struggled with whether they should be there to begin with as the race reckoning in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death carried on in their home communities.

When police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot Blake several times in the back leaving the 29-year-old father of three paralyzed form the waist down, according to his family, emotions that were simmering reached a boiling point. Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported prior to the walkout that “a sizable faction of players” inside the bubble were “psychologically distraught” after police shot Blake.

Rivers put those emotions into perspective on Friday while working in a larger point about the fight outside the NBA bubble.

“The key to this thing is we all needed to take a breath,” Rivers said of the hiatus. “We needed a moment to breathe. It’s not lost on me that George Floyd didn’t get that moment.

“But we did. And we took it. And the players took it. And they got to refocus on the things they wanted to focus on outside of their jobs.”

The NBA will resume its postseason on Saturday. Players will take the court once again having taken a stand off it. They will do so having created a social justice coalition and compelled the NBA to open its arenas as polling places for the upcoming November elections.

But larger issues remain unresolved. And, of course they do. A walkout of basketball players wasn’t going to change the world over the course of three days.

As Rivers put it, that’s not the point.

“It's not the NBA's job to solve the world,” Rivers said. “It's the NBA's job to be part of the world.”

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