Russell Westbrook

NBA releases new social justice video: ‘The Truth Is #BlackLivesMatter’

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Numerous NBA players have taken part in — and in some cases led — Black Lives Matter protests around the nation.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Malcolm Brogdon, Jaylen Brown, Karl-Anthony Towns, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, DeMar DeRozan, Tobias Harris, Mattise Thybulle, Damian Lillard, and many other NBA players took to the streets as part of the protests of police brutality that rose up in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis Police officer. NBA owners — Mark Cuban and Vivek Ranadive — as well as front office people such as Elton Brand were at protests as well.

The NBA weaved footage of a lot of those players together in a new social justice brand video focusing on the social justice movement and the league’s commitment to it.

Russell Westbrook to protesters in Compton: ‘Protect your team. Protect your family.’

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Giannis Antetokounmpo and several of his Bucks’ teammates were at a protest in Milwaukee Saturday. Tobias Harris, GM Elton Brand and others from the Sixers were at a protest in Philadelphia. Stephen Curry was at a demonstration in the Bay Area with his family organized by teammate Juan Toscano-Anderson. Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to lead a protest. Numerous NBA coaches have used their voice and platform to discuss race in America.

The NBA community has lifted its voice as part of the national call for change in both police use of force and systemic racism in the United States.

Add Russell Westbrook to that list, he spoke at a rally in Compton, Calif., Sunday, not far from where he grew up.

“Protect your team. Protect your family. In times like this, we need to stick together.”

Compton native DeMar DeRozan was at the protest, also.

Report: James Harden wasn’t on call with other NBA superstars

James Harden and Chris Paul
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Several NBA stars joined a conference call to unite on finishing the season. On the call, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Noticeably absent: James Harden.

I didn’t want to read to much into that. Haynes never claimed to name everyone on the call. Perhaps, Haynes couldn’t confirm every participant.

But…

Kendrick Perkins on ESPN:

I called Chris Haynes, and he clarified to me – from his knowledge – that James Harden was not on that call.

I’d still caution against jumping to conclusions. Maybe Harden was invited and couldn’t join. Maybe there’s some other benign explanation.

But this only furthers the notion Harden is disliked by fellow players – especially Paul.

President of the National Basketball Players Association, Paul reportedly arranged the call. Paul developed a rift with Harden while they played together on the Rockets.

Harden’s proclivity for drawing fouls/flopping and complaining/whining has also bothered plenty of opponents.

Of course, Harden has allies, including Westbrook and Durant, who were both on the call. This definitely isn’t a case of everyone hating Harden. Animosity might not extend too far past Paul.

But, fairly or not, this is getting treated as more evidence Harden is resented throughout the league.

Adam Silver reportedly says league/players must be comfortable with some positive tests in bubble

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
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How much risk is acceptable?

It’s the question both the NBA and society as a whole are struggling to answer as steps are taken to reopen the economy. Or, in the case of the NBA, restart the season.

Last Friday, in a conference call with NBA players, Commissioner Adam Silver said there was no way he could fully guarantee the safety of players in a quarantined bubble. The league would do everything it could to keep players, coaches, staffs, families, and anyone else in the bubble healthy, but there will be risks.

Tuesday, in a generally optimistic call with owners about restarting the season, Silver said that everyone is going to have to accept there will be positive tests but that the league does not need to shut down again because of it. From Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The NBA should be studying how other leagues are proceeding, particularly team sports. In Europe, the German Bundesliga soccer league will restart this weekend — despite positive coronavirus tests for two players for Dresden (a second-tier team) that forced that team to cancel games and quarantine players.

For the NBA, even in a “bubble” in Las Vegas and/or Orlando, there will be positive tests. It’s inevitable. What matters is how the NBA responds to the positive test, what protocols are in place to stop the spread. Silver has mentioned daily testing, from there quarantine anyone with a positive test, then do contact tracing for that person and test everyone he/she came in contact with, maybe quarantining those people for a period of time. It could force the NBA to modify it’s playoff schedule on the fly if a player tests positive (making teammates contacts to be monitored). Is that an acceptable level of risk?

As noted in Wojnarowski’s report, talk to people around the league and there is a growing sense the NBA will find a way to complete this season. The league’s elite players — LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, and more — all back the idea of finishing the season if there are proper safety precautions in place.

Those safety precautions are not 100% effective, however. There is risk.

How much risk the players and league are willing to accept is the question.

Report: NBA stars unite on finishing season, most lottery-team players want to be done

Lakers star LeBron James and Warriors star Stephen Curry
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The National Basketball Players Association is reportedly polling players about whether they want to resume the NBA season.

Divides are emerging.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Some of the NBA’s biggest superstars formed a united front to resume the 2019-20 season during a private conference call Monday, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Chris Paul, the president of the players association, arranged the call that included LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook, sources said.

Toward the end of the call discussing the ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic, all parties were in agreement to take the court with proper safety measures once the league is given the green light to commence, sources said.

The majority of players who are essentially eliminated from postseason contention would rather the league start back up with the top eight teams in each conference competing in some sort of playoff, sources said.

Shams Charania of The Athletic Tweeted out this update along the same lines:

This does not contradict the first report: Players do want to finish the NBA season, but for some players on teams well out of the playoffs that means something different — without them — than it does for players on playoff-bound teams.

This is effectively a return to Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. Remember, it’s not just owners vs. players. It’s also owners vs. owners and players vs. players. People within each “side” sometimes have competing interests.

The uncertainty caused by the coronavirus only adds complications.

Of course, players want to return once “proper” safety measures are in place. But which safety measures are “proper” are in the eye of the beholder. Remember, the league office and Kings thought it was safe to play March 11. The Pelicans disagreed.

Life is never perfectly safe. Nobody should let that become the standard. Yet, coronavirus adds danger and discomfort for players who’d have to travel to and live in a bubble

The cited stars might have different visions of “proper” safety measures.

The group certainly comes from differing situations.

LeBron’s and Davis’ Lakers, Leonard’s Clippers and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks are prime title contenders. Russell Westbrook’s Rockets are a championship wildcard, and Paul’s Thunder are capable of a playoff run.

But Lillard’s Trail Blazers are outside postseason position (though within striking distance). Though Durant’s Nets are in the top eight, he doesn’t plan to return this season. Curry’s Warriors – the only team already eliminated from the playoff race – have made the most noise about being finished.

Yet, those stars all share a common goal of resuming the season (and will surely be influential with other, less-heralded players).

On the flip side, some players on lottery teams surely want to return. NBA players are highly competitive and generally just want to play basketball.

Money will drive some decisions.

Players’ collective salaries are determined by league-wide revenue. So, players who go on long playoff runs help increase the pot while drawing from a relatively modest playoff pool ($20 million in 2017-18 with changes from there based on season-long revenue).

That works well enough in normal times. But if only playoff teams return to help the league generate revenue, should those teams’ players – facing greater-than-usual danger – get a larger cut? It’s not necessarily fair for some players to stay home and let other players work to protect everyone’s salaries.

Then again, the more people in a bubble, the more risk of coronavirus infiltrating. And how much revenue would lottery teams generate, anyway?

At some point, the NBA will present a specific return-to-play plan to players. They’ll determine whether it’s acceptable.

In the meantime, battle lines are being drawn.