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The NBA is back, recognizing the players' partial leverage; questions continue about owners' role

A day after an impromptu NBA strike--triggered by the Milwaukee Bucks after a police shooting in Kenosha, near their home site, and spreading to other leagues--players voted to resume the season, albeit with questions about the endgame.

Wrote Shaun Powell on NBA.com this morning:
A hectic 24 hours that included, in no specific order: A Bucks walkout, Michael Jordan, heated debates, the resounding voice of Doc Rivers, political demands, the NBA Board of Governors, reform demands, Zoom calls and a conclusive desire to finish what was started, all resulted in an about-face and overnight second thoughts that put the NBA playoffs back in play.
The players who pressed pause on the season didn’t get everything they wanted -- improbable, considering the justice system doesn’t move so swiftly -- but enough to convince them that returning to basketball and the platform afforded to them at the Walt Disney World campus made the most sense. And here we are, with the restart of the restart seemingly set for Saturday.
It's simply not possible for them to quickly trigger legislative change in Wisconsin and Kentucky, for example, but... the team owners, some of whom are more sympathetic than others, can use their political weight.

Powell noted another potential factor: the presence, finally, of family members after players spent months in the "bubble."

Wrote Brian Phillips in The Ringer:
In one stroke, the Bucks’ action clarified the limits of the NBA’s official-corporate-messaging approach to supporting Black Lives Matter. What the Bucks did felt powerful because they were breaking a rule: They were putting something on the line and were prepared to sacrifice something. The gesture wasn’t careful or planned; it was disruptive. Instead of being massaged to align with a corporation’s business priorities, it forced everyone who confronted it to face an uncomfortable choice: Do I support this violation of the accepted routine, and if not, what does that say about me?
Inside the NBA offices

It's not on the players

Wrote columnist Marcus Thompson II in The Athletic, They may be game, but burden of change shouldn’t be all on athletes:
Still, they were pressed into reviving the movement because NBA owners played it socially safe and pacified themselves with T-shirts and social media posts. Because leagues and teams admitted they should have been listening all along and yet essentially stopped at that confession. Because corporations who have the actual ability to create the change instead saw support of Black lives as a marketing ploy, a customer-service response for an aggrieved target audience. So the players pulled their main card to remind all parties of their commitment.
He cited previous examples: withholding the All-Star Game from Charlotte, "to protest an LGBTQ discrimination law in North Carolina," and, from a more self-interested direction, teams' efforts to pass sports betting.

From the New York Times, a sign of disunity:
Tilman Fertitta, the owner of the Houston Rockets, said on CNBC that he did not think that the stoppage was directed at the league’s owners.
Thompson offered an example of the NBA playing it safe:
Damian Lillard wanted to put Oscar Grant’s name on the back of his jersey. Grant, who like us is from Oakland, was killed by BART police while face down on the platform. After having his desire to honor a local censored by the league, Lillard went with the NBA-approved “How Many More” statement on the back of his jersey. So let’s go with that.
He was skeptical:
This fallacy of If Black people do better, they will be treated better was evident in many responses to the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor killings. Many companies donated to programs and schools, started nonprofits. The NBA created a foundation and committed $300 million over 10 years, a million each year from each team, aimed at economic empowerment in Black communities “primarily through education and youth employment.” The implied suggestion of these countermeasures is that if somehow, schools are better and kids are smarter, cops won’t shoot to kill or be perennially over-policed.
And he ends with a powerful, painful, infuriating personal story about getting stopped by the cops.

Another side of the bubble

The bigger picture, from Jay Caspian Kang in the New York Review of Books, shows deeper problems:
Soon the season will resume, and the league will again test hundreds of its players, coaches, and staff for Covid-19 in a bubble located in Disney World. Those players will receive their results within twelve hours in a state where doctors, nurses, and elder care aides report twelve-to-fifteen-day waits on their diagnoses. Between games, the players will head back to their rooms, which are cleaned by a workforce made essential by the NBA’s need to play games. They will eat food cooked by another, similar group of workers, none of whom are within the bubble or have access to the same testing capacity. The vast majority of those workers will be Black or Latino. This is also a form of “systemic racism,” but it’s one that the usually smooth, frictionless politics shared between the NBA, its players, and its fans will never acknowledge because it goes beyond the abstract desire for white people to understand Black people, and speaks, instead, to the ritual exploitation that benefits—and damns—us all.


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