The NBA’s plan to restart the season with 22 teams at Disney World in August hit a snag this week. Former Cavs star Kyrie Irving is leading a coalition of players pushing back against the deal that’s already been approved by the league and its players union.
WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says the social justice movement can benefit from players back on the court.
A call to focus on social justice
Irving views the NBA's restart as overshadowing social justice reform.
"It's fine if Kyrie wants to make his own individual statement," Pluto said. "But he got on a conference call with a bunch of players, almost about 80 of them," Pluto said. Irving urged the players to sit out the restart to focus solely on issues of racial injustice.
What bothered Pluto is that Irving has the luxury of being able to sit out. Irving has been paid about $110 million in the NBA, with around $90 million guaranteed moving forward.
"On top of that, he's recovering from shoulder surgery," Pluto said. "Even if he wanted to play, he couldn't. Yet, he's trying to lay a guilt trip on some of these guys like, 'If you play, you're not in with us on this social justice cause.'"
The NBA stage can be a platform
Pluto says "conspicuously absent" from Irving's Friday night call was former Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, now in his second season with the Los Angeles Lakers. James has said he will play.
Pluto says the NBA stage will amplify players' voices.
"They'll have so much media time to fill. LeBron could talk about anything from his I Promise School to what he thinks about whatever, and a lot of these other guys can too," Pluto said.
"Jim Brown a long time ago said a form of black power is "green power". When you have economic clout, it creates power for your family and your voice is more heard. This is a green power issue, for a sport that is primarily African-American and also a lot of now international players coming over. I mean talk about diversity, the NBA's got it over everybody."
Not the everyday player
Pluto says Irving isn't speaking for the everyday NBA player who takes up roster spots throughout the league. Many are trying to make the practice squad to "change the course of his family."
"There are, I would say close to 200 replaceable parts, that's kind of how they are viewed. Guys that are the last five guys on the roster for 30 some teams, maybe even six," he said. "These guys could be there one year and another year a whole group of five could come in and take their job."
"If you're one of those guys or you're an older guy that they're wondering, 'Does he still got it?' and you don't play in this, they'll find somebody else for next year."
Will Irving's intervention stop the restart?
"The answer is no," Pluto said. "The heavyweights want to play."
While Irving has backing a few players, including Dwight Howard, the NBA is set to begin training camp next month. The NBA Player Representatives voted 28-0 to approve the restart deal, and 29-1 by the owners, with the lone dissenting vote coming from the Portland Trailblazers.
Irving took part in the union's June 5 ratification vote, voting yes to greenlight the deal to return the 22 NBA teams selected for the resumption of play in Orlando.