A coalition of NBA players is leading an intense debate about whether they should restart the NBA season down in Orlando, whether to follow the NBA and players’ union or if it would be better for social justice movements and their own health just to stay home.
Charles Barkley has an opinion about that. Shocking, I know.
Barkley went on ESPN’s Get Up and talked about the restart and the conference call by players who either oppose the plan or are asking hard questions about it.
“I think it would be stupid to not play for two reasons. Number one, if they don’t play they’re going to be out of sight, out of mind for the rest of the year. There won’t be no cameras following. LeBron [James] is probably the most famous athlete in the United States. He won’t be visible anywhere. So, out of sight, out of mind.
“Also, these guys got to realize this money is going to come back, and they’re going to lose billions of dollars that the players could use to go into their own communities and do some great stuff. So it’s not good on any front. I have no idea what Kyrie and Dwight [Howard] are talking about. But it would be a catastrophic mistake not to play.”
Barkley’s opinions are often a blunt object, which makes great television, but don’t always get at the nuance of a situation. Questions about how the NBA’s return impacts social justice causes, plus players’ health concerns and wanting to see the league’s full plan in detail are all very legitimate issues.
National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michelle Roberts put it well, speaking to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski.
“It’s not a question of play or not play,” Roberts told ESPN. “It’s a question of, does playing again harm a movement that we absolutely, unequivocally embrace? And then whether our play can, in fact, highlight, encourage and enhance this movement.
“That’s what they’re talking about. They’re not fighting about it; they’re talking about it.”
Barkley, however, gets to a truth a lot of players understand: Not playing will hit their pocketbooks hard, and not all of them can easily afford it. Don’t play now and not only do players lose out on salary from this season, but it will also dramatically impact how much money they will make in the future. If this season were canceled the owners would undoubtedly use the force majeure clause to blow of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and force negotiations of a new one in the middle of a pandemic. That would almost certainly lead to a lockout, very possibly a long, ugly one that costs the NBA next season as well. It would get messy, and the billionaire owners would wait out the millionaire players.
There are no easy answers, just as there are no perfect restart plans for the NBA. Adam Silver and the league office, along with many at the top of the players’ union, see this 22-team plan as the best of the bad options. Everything is a trade-off and a risk.
Ultimately, every player is going to have to weigh the impact of playing, their health concerns, and the finances, then make their own call. There is not an easy, one size fits all answer.