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The NBA restart has not been a total disaster: a follow-up

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Against all odds, the NBA has created a pandemic-free bubble in Disney World.

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics - Game Two Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In June, I wrote an article titled “The restart of the NBA season looks like a disaster waiting to happen.” In short, I thought it was insane to restart the season in one of the most severely affected states in the country with the knowledge that several players where already recovering from COVID-19. On top of that, the idea of trapping players in a bubble was poorly received in some circles. It felt like the antithesis of the greater social justice movement that was happening around the country, but hey, the league approved bumper sticker phrases on the back of jerseys.

I’m going to go through my opinions from June one by one and give a verdict on how badly I missed the mark, if I did at all.

First, the health concerns. I was under the impression that players who tested positive were potentially being let into the bubble too soon and that it could spread. At the time, Malcolm Brogdon had recently joined Jaylen Brown in leading a peaceful protest in Atlanta. Brogdon later tested positive, while Brown did not. To me, this was enough reason to shut the whole thing down until we were 100% sure every single player was healthy enough to start the league back up. If we still had cases in June, why was I to believe players would be ready by July or even August?

The NBA has daily testing and that’s been a big help, although that’s not really the point. The clean test results tells us that the bubble has been an effective measure, which is something I also thought to be impossible. To be fair, I’m still somewhat correct:

Thankfully, the story of Lou Williams’ chicken wing adventure went away because nothing bad happened. Still, he broke the rules, was allowed to return, and gave everyone a bit of a scare. The integrity of the players has more or less kept the bubble intact, but I stand by my opinion that it’s a flimsy idea because Florida is a madhouse.

Here’s the thing I foolishly never thought of holding the bubble together: friendship. Or, as I like to call it, legal tampering.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The Celtics’ core likes Donovan Mitchell and Mitchell likes hanging out with the Celtics. We already knew this from when they played on Team USA together and the bubble has provided another unlikely opportunity for the Celtics to recruit for the future. I don’t know how they could pull it off, but they’re obviously going to try and make something happen.

The greater point is that there’s plenty to do in the bubble. My idea that they would be “trapped” on a resort was a little misguided.

Let’s talk about the social justice jerseys. I said they were a joke and I stand by it because any “progressive” message that had to be approved by those in power probably isn’t progressive enough.

It’s not all bad though. After dismissing the Portland Trail Blazers, Jaylen Brown used his post-game interview to draw attention to the national anthem and how it was written by a slave owner:

“Angela Davis once said that racism is so dangerous not because of individual actors but because it’s deeply embedded in the apparatus,” Brown said. “I think about that quote a lot when I think about the national anthem, which was written by Francis Scott Key, who was a slave owner. When we talk about the national anthem, we don’t talk a lot about the third verse that was written, which addressed slavery and mentions there’s no hope for a hireling and slave but the gloom of the grave. So racism is so deeply embedded in our country that people don’t even flinch ... at the idea. It kind of is what it is.

No matter your thoughts on the protests, this is a pretty non-controversial stance on the anthem. More importantly, Brown is using his platform to do what the slogan-plastered jerseys couldn’t. They’re a nice touch, but there’s no growth in sharing platitudes. The more players like Jaylen speaks up, the more we can add valuable insight to the mainstream.

I don’t think the league deserves much credit for doing the bare minimum, but I recognize that their willingness to allow their platform to be used to promote progressive messages may have helped Jaylen feel comfortable talking about these issues on TV, and that counts for something. Not much, but something.

If the league really wanted to be on the right side of history, they could act like it by supporting one of their most respected team executives.

It shouldn’t take overdue incriminating body cam footage for the league to speak up on this. It shouldn’t take anything other than common sense. Support your best ambassadors to the game of basketball. It’s pretty simple.

One thing to keep an eye on is the newly formed NBA Foundation, which will reportedly contribute $300 million to “creating greater economic empowerment in the Black community” over the next 10 years.

Through its mission to drive economic empowerment for Black communities through employment and career advancement, the NBA Foundation will seek to increase access and support for high school, college-aged and career-ready Black men and women, and assist national and local organizations that provide skills training, mentorship, coaching and pipeline development in NBA markets and communities across the United States and Canada.

The Foundation will focus on three critical employment transition points: obtaining a first job, securing employment following high school or college, and career advancement once employed.

The full press release is much more substantive than the initial announcement, and yet we still have to wait for more details. We know the end goal, but we don’t know who is writing checks and where they’re going.

Should I expect to ever know these things? I don’t know. I can only hope whatever becomes of this will receive the appropriate media coverage.

Sometimes, the path to corporate wealth is paved with good intentions. I’ll never be entirely convinced that the NBA revived the season with the players’ best interests in mind, but I’ll accept that everything is working out just fine. Daily testing has held the bubble together, and a neutral-at-best stance on political speech has given one of my favorite basketball players a chance to make the world a better place. Right now, Jaylen sticks out as one of the most vocal advocates for change. But in the future, speaking up will be more commonplace because of people like him.