While fans aren’t packing into stadiums and stands to watch their home teams compete, both the country and the world have their eyes on the National Basketball Association as they expose a change in society in the fight for social justice in the country. It is unsurprising that the sports world has been affected by the pandemic more than any other entertainment industry; according to ESPN, the sports industry could have possibly lost over 12 billion in revenue worldwide, accounting for youth sports to the professional level. Despite a nationwide health crisis, the NBA teams and their players have proven to represent the social tensions that have climaxed in 2020.  

The NBA was the first league in American sports to get the preparations in order to continue the 2019 20 season and crown a champion. For most leagues, a plan was made to create a bubble concept which would allow players, coaches, league personnel, some reporters, and team higher-ups to be active. The NBA’s goal during this bubble period is to provide a safe environment during the pandemic to the many NBA players, whether they are star players, regular starters, or role players for any team. 

The most important result of the NBA bubble is the potential voice the players can demonstrate as they fight for social justice. The NBA has always been a league in which players can voice their opinions on different matters and feel protected when they speak on said matters. In today’s world, their ability to raise awareness is needed to help change the world; their influence reaches 4.1 million people, according to CNBC’s report on the viewership of the NBA’s return in late July. 

Before the start of the season, there was some concern as to whether restarting league play was a good idea, as it could possibly take attention away from protests that are happening around the country working to push social change. The main spokesman for this concern was Brooklyn Nets star Point Guard, Kyrie Irving; he said, “I don’t support going into Orlando. I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit. Something smells a little fishy.” Irving’s concerns seemed to be unpopular, as many disagreed, saying that the bubble would be more beneficial as players have a larger platform to speak from, even if they are not the main focus of the media. 

Ultimately, the decision to continue with the plan to restart league play went ahead with many other additions that were different from regular league play. One of the most notable changes was the addition of social messages on the back of player’s jerseys, where their last names would usually be displayed. Some of these messages are: Black Lives Matter, Vote, I Can’t Breathe, Say Her Name, Si Se Puede, Peace, and many more. Out of the 350 players who attend the bubble, 300 took a social justice message on their back. Out of the 50 that did not wear a social message, the biggest name was L.A. Laker Forward LeBron James, who said, “I commend anyone that decides to put something on the back of their jersey. It’s just something that didn’t really seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal. I would have loved to have a say-so on what would have went on the back of my jersey. I had a couple things in mind, but I wasn’t part of that process, which is okay.”

James was not the only one to hold this stance; Miami Heat star forward Jimmy Butler would have liked to have nothing at all on the back of his jersey except his number. Butler tried to wear the empty jersey the first game that the Heat played, but league referees had him change to one with his name. When explaining why he tried to wear a blank jersey as opposed to one with a social justice message, he said, “I felt like with no message, with no name, it’s going back to who I was. And if I wasn’t who I was today, I’m no different than anybody else of color and want that to be my message in the sense that, just because I’m an NBA player, everybody has the same right, no matter what, and that’s how I feel about my people of color.”  

Another big point that the NBA has been trying to push is to get out the message to vote. L.A. Lakers have committed to turn the Staples Center into a voting center for the upcoming election, an idea that was pushed by LeBron James, who has been the most vocal when it comes to getting out the vote with his More Than a Vote campaign. Oklahoma City Thunder veteran Point Guard Chris Paul helped get his entire team register to vote. “I’m going to challenge all my NBA guys, other sports guys; let’s try to get our entire teams registered to vote,” Paul said during an interview after a win. “Sports are cool […] It’s how we take care of our families, but those are the real issues that we’ve got to start addressing.”

In the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake, the NBA responded in a way that has never been seen before, despite their history of social activism. It started with the Milwaukee Bucks, who decided, as a team, to not show up to game five of their playoff series against the Orlando Magic. “Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin, we’ve seen the horrendous video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha,” Bucks’ Point Guard George Hill said in the team statement following the boycott of the game. “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.” The statement asked for lawmakers and law enforcers to be held accountable, as well as asking that the specific officer involved be held accountable. “We can’t do anything. First of all, we shouldn’t have come to this d—n place, to be honest,” Hill said in an interview. “Coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are. But we’re here. It is what it is. We can’t do anything from right here. But definitely, when it’s all settled, some things need to be done.”

This was only the first of the game cancellations, as other teams would follow the Bucks’ example by choosing to boycott their games, showing the unity of the decision of league players. This began a conversation with players about whether coming to the bubble was a good idea in the first place. Many considered leaving the bubble and not continuing the season. Each team would then agree to continue playing pushing all games that were to be played to the next week.  Lakers Forward/Center Anthony Davis was asked in an interview about what would happen if the owners didn’t keep their end of the deal which was agreed upon. “If they don’t, we won’t play again. It’s as simple as that,” said Davis. Their demonstration shows that the players’ goal for social justice is more important than them playing, and possibly getting paid. 

With all the demonstrations within the league, one of the most passionate messages came from Denver Nuggets Guard Jamal Murray, who had custom Adidas shoes with the faces of Goerge Floyd on the right shoe, and Breonna Taylor on the left shoe. After Murray gave off an incredible 50-point game to help the Nuggets survive a win against the Utah Jazz, he spoke about the meaning of the shoes to him during a post-game interview. “I just want to win […] in life, you find things that hold value to you, find things to fight for, and we found things worth fighting for in the NBA as a collective unit,” said Murray. “I use these shoes as a symbol for me to keep fighting.” When asked why the pictures on the shoes have been so personal to him, Murray responded, “these shoes give me life even though these people are gone. They give me life. They help me get my strength to keep fighting this world.” 

As the NBA 2020 bubble season continues, players and coaches persistently use their platform to spark conversations into communities. Whether the players are still playing in the bubble, or they are at their home speaking up about the injustice this world has brought into the light, they will be on everyone’s minds and on everyone’s radar.

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