As a growing faction of NBA players remains uncertain about committing to the league’s plan for restarting the season in an Orlando bubble environment, a coalition of players including Brooklyn Nets All-Star Kyrie Irving and the Los Angeles Lakers‘ Avery Bradley believes it has a responsibility to take on a leading role in exploring answers and solutions for fellow players the group believes to be justifiably reluctant to speak for themselves, sources tell ESPN.
The coalition of players pursuing a further examination of the NBA’s plan to restart the season in Orlando delivered a statement to ESPN on Monday describing its thought processes and motivations.
Irving and Bradley, two of a number of veteran players who have taken expanded roles in organizing player conference calls in the past week, believe they’re providing a voice for those players who fear retribution if they openly voice their concerns, sources tell ESPN.
Irving, Bradley and the coalition of players want to pursue some concerns further with the league, sources said, including: the investment of resources and ideas of all league constituencies — from the commissioner’s office, ownership level, management and the players’ association — in social justice reform.
Among concerns surrounding the league’s return to play after a three-month shutdown in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, sources said the coalition is citing: a surge in positive coronavirus cases in Florida, conditions surrounding the restrictive environment in the bubble, insurance and liabilities for players based on possible illnesses, and injuries in a truncated finish to the season.
In a statement to ESPN shared by leaders of the coalition of players, the group described itself as a movement working to unite NBA players and those well beyond the limits of the league’s structure.
“We are a group of men and women from different teams and industries that are normally painted as opponents, but have put our egos and differences aside to make sure we stand united and demand honesty during this uncertain time,” the coalition said.
“Native indigenous African Caribbean men and women entertaining the world, we will continue to use our voices and platforms for positive change and truth.
“We are truly at an inflection point in history where as a collective community, we can band together — UNIFY — and move as one. We need all our people with us and we will stand together in solidarity.
“As an oppressed community we are going on 500-plus years of being systemically targeted, used for our IP [intellectual property]/Talent, and also still being killed by the very people that are supposed to ‘protect and serve’ us.
“WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH!
“We are combating the issues that matter most: We will not accept the racial injustices that continue to be ignored in our communities. We will not be kept in the dark when it comes to our health and well-being. And we will not ignore the financial motivations/expectations that have prevented us historically from making sound decisions.
“This is not about individual players, athletes or entertainers. This is about our group of strong men and women uniting for change. We have our respective fields, however, we will not just shut up and play to distract us from what this whole system has been about: Use and Abuse.
“We are all fathers, daughters, leaders and so much more. So what is our BIG picture? We are in this for UNITY and CHANGE!”
The player calls have included members of the WNBA and entertainment industry, and there has been discussion within the group about representing more than just voices in sports and the public eye — but those in oppressed black communities throughout the country.
Irving and Bradley were among the organizers of a Monday call that included 40 players and a Friday call that included closer to 100, sources said. The Monday call included 1968 U.S. gold medalist John Carlos sharing his perspective on social justice then and now, sources said.
Irving, an elected vice president in the NBPA, was part of the union’s ratification vote on June 5 that approved the league’s plan for a 22-team restart in Orlando. He’s out of the season with shoulder surgery.
The NBA and NBPA have been in contact with the players to get a better understanding of how they can work together to address issues and try to find common ground on getting as many players as possible to rejoin their teams this month, sources said.