Kyrie Irving was right. The doubts, the meetings with players, his concern that playing in Orlando would take away from the critical work needed on social justice reform — all of it turned out to be true. Two months since Irving voiced concern over playing in the league’s Disney bubble, players went on strike Wednesday to put the focus back on violence being perpetuated by police towards Black people.
Irving, one of the NBAPA’s vice presidents, thought the bubble was a bad idea. His problems with the concept were largely written off as frivolous. Adrian Wojnarowski characterized Irving as a “disruptor” throughout the process, trying to ruin the NBA’s plans to resume play when he questioned whether players should resume the season and put social justice reform on the backburner as a result.
“There’s significant support to resume the season among the league’s superstars — most of whom are on playoff contenders — and Irving seems to be relishing the clash.”
Minimizing Irving’s concerns was unfair. It turned real, tangible concerns about Irving’s plea for a united front, into little more than questions about food quality and amenities while staying in Orlando. Kyrie wasn’t trying to ruin the league’s fun, he was pushing players to question the motivations behind the bubble.
Irving was one of the league’s loudest voices after George Floyd’s death, and it’s apparent that forcing players to think about whether the NBA bubble would take away from the issue did evoke doubts among some players.
“Once we start playing basketball again, the news will turn from systemic racism to who did what in the game last night. It’s a crucial time for us to be able to play and blend that and impact what’s happening in our communities,” one widely respected NBA player told ESPN. “We are asking ourselves, ‘Where and how can we make the biggest impact?’ Mental health is part of the discussion too, and how we handle all of that in a bubble.”
Those concerns were all made manifest. Talk did move from systemic racism to the results of games. Paul George publicly spoke about the mental health toll of being isolated and alone with only basketball to break up the monotony. George Hill of the Bucks said he felt he couldn’t make an impact from Orlando after the shooting of Jacob Blake.
“We shouldn’t have even came to this damn place, to be honest,” Hill said shortly after the shooting of Blake.
“This world has to change. The police department has to change. Us as a society have to change. Right now we’re not seeing any of that.”— NBA TV (@NBATV) August 24, 2020
George Hill calls for social justice after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. pic.twitter.com/Ux9DXqERr3
If the only thing the country was dealing with was the Covid-19 pandemic, the bubble would have been a much-needed distraction. Instead the violence of spring and summer proved we needed focus, not diversion. While the idea of playing basketball and elevating the Black Lives Matter movement was good in theory, there’s little doubt now that isolating players in Orlando away from their communities took away from critical grassroots work that needed to occur.
Though protest players have found a way to make their voices heard. Striking inside the bubble is depriving the world of basketball. This deprivation refocused the collective consciousness of a nation and forced those looking to escape everything to remember the vastly more important issues at play than NBA games.
“All in all, his inquiries weren’t of weighty consequence,” Wojnarowski said of Irving’s concerns about starting the NBA bubble. Now they are. They cannot be ignored, and in hindsight minimizing Irving’s very real worries about taking away from social justice issues and conflating them with logistical concerns was patently unfair.