But in the wake of the growing racial justice movement following the killing of George Floyd by police, Kyrie Irving is urging players to sit out in order to press for reform, according to multiple reports.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported that Irving, who left the Boston Celtics to join the Brooklyn Nets last summer, led a call Friday night with nearly 100 fellow NBA players during which he made “an impassioned plea” for them to make a stand and sit out the planned 22-team restart in Orlando next month, even at the risk of sacrificing more than a third of their salary this season.
According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the six-time All-Star guard said he was “willing to give up everything I have” for social reform.
“I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving said during the call, according to Charania. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit. Something smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.”
Questions continue to abound about the NBA’s plan to resume the season in a fan-less”bubble” environment at Disney World in Orlando, from COVID-19 testing protocols to the risk of serious injury following what will be a four-month break due to the pandemic. However, the focus of the roughly 90-minute Zoom call Friday night reportedly centered around how players in the mostly Black league could use their platform to support the racial justice movement.
Sources told Yahoo Sports reporter Chris Haynes that Irving — who has reportedly suggested he could return from season-ending shoulder surgery in March to play in Orlando — made it clear he now opposed going to Orlando and would rather “work on the frontlines in his community to focus on racial oppression and systemic racism” in the aftermath of Floyd’s death.
However, according to Haynes, the Nets point guard also said he would go to Orlando if the rest of the players agreed it was the right decision.
Irving was not alone.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley, a fellow former Celtic, was also vocal during the call, according to Charania, and urged players to use the moment to “play chess, not checkers.” Charania and Haynes both reported that Lakers center Dwight Howard also opposed the restart, citing concerns that it would be a distraction during a critical moment for the racial justice movement.
According to Wojnarowski, Irving has previously voiced other less “weighty” concerns about the logistics of the Orlando plan — from what food would be provided to whether he, as an injured player, would be able to watch his teammates from the stands.
The call Friday comes after the NBA’s most prominent stars — including LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook — reportedly agreed to support the NBA’s effort to resume the season. But that was before Floyd’s killing and the subsequent movement for racial justice.
Earlier this week, James and several other prominent Black athletes formed a voting rights group to encourage African-Americans to vote in the upcoming election. James, who played with Irving in Cleveland, was reportedly not on the call Friday.
According to Charania, the NBA and its players’ union have reiterated that any player can abstain from the Orlando restart — with no financial loss — as long as they have an agreement with their team or a medical excuse.