Kyrie Irving led an attempt to boycott the bubble NBA with which last season ended. With the pandemic forcing to modify the end of the campaign, the base of the Brooklyn Nets attempted to lead a revolution to protest police abuses against African Americans that resulted in deaths like that of George Floyd or the shooting at Jacob Blake He had the support of some players (the least) and an icon of the racial struggle in sport, but he did not achieve his mission. The book Can’t Knock The Hustle, by Matt Sullivan, now uncovers the evolution of that boycott attempt.
The idea of not ending the season in protest of the racial incidents that shocked the country and they led to the cancellation of a game due to a sit-in by the players that flew over the NBA three days before the start of the Orlando bubble. Young players without big contracts did not see it clear to stop playing in case the League retaliated and did not pay them that year. Finally, the representatives of the teams in the Players Association voted that the final stretch of the season be played and that greatly annoyed a Kyrie Irving who began with his particular revolt.
The Nets point guard’s first step was to organize a massive video call through Zoom, in which it accompanied him John Carlos, known worldwide for performing the greeting of the Black Power during the medal ceremony of the 200 meters sprint of the Mexico Olympics 86 with his compatriot Tommie Smith. An icon of the fight for equality. Irving wanted Carlos to convey to NBA players the same advice that had made him rethink things and that at the time he also gave to the vindictive NFL player Colin Kaepernick. “You have jumped into the pool of humanitarianism and this is not a matter of the moment, but of the movement. You are in that movement right now and it is not time to silence your voice. It’s time to turn up the volume and keep turning it up because you are there to speak for the voiceless”.
Those words of John Carlos were heard by everyone present at that meeting by Zoom, including names of weight in the League such as that of LeBron James. Avery Bradley He was the most supportive of Irving. “John Carlos said we had an opportunity that might not be presented again for the next 50 years.”recalls Bradley. “There was a lot of pressure and many players told us we were crazy”, confesses the one who was a member of the Lakers. “There is systematic racism in our work.”
Spencer Dinwiddieof the Brooklyn Nets joined the revolution. “I knew there was going to be a lot of misinformation about it to discredit us, so if we were not decisive the movement would die”, Explain. That’s why that massive video call was made. Irving and Bradley got hold of most of the NBA players’ phone numbers and sorted it all out. They were looking for union in the face of a very delicate situation that was dividing them. There were more than 75 people at that meeting, from Chris Paul a Russell Westbrook, passing by Carmelo Anthony, Andre Iguodala, Mike Conley, Joel Embiid, Donovan Mitchell O Kevin Durantas well as WNBA star Natasha Cloud. LeBron was not present.
Kyrie Irving repeated the word ad nauseam “Unit”, but did not get it. There were a lot of loose fringes. Carmelo Anthony himself asked what they would do if they boycotted the end of the season and didn’t play. Would each go home? Would they fight together to change the laws? They just wouldn’t play and that’s it? It was not clear what the next step was, and meanwhile the Players Association had already well advanced the negotiations with the NBA to guarantee the safety of the members of the bubble that would isolate them from a growing Covid-19 pandemic day by day.
Some Players like Garret Temple saw in the isolation of the Orlando bubble a perfect setting to organize the revolt proposed by Kyrie Irving. While they just had to play and pass the time between games, players could shape a specific plan like the one Carmelo Anthony asked about. In addition, they would continue to collect their salary and could organize to donate it to African-American communities serving as an example.
However, it was precisely the economic aspect that ended up destroying any idea of a boycott. Failure to finish the season and question the dispute of the next one would give the owners the right to freeze the salaries of the players. About $ 1.2 billion in salaries was talked about as ‘insurance’ for franchises.
With most of the players without millionaire income coming from sponsors and with life much less than settled, the revolution proposed by Kyrie Irving was very well intentioned but without much sustainability. “The players who did not want to finish the season did not have a plan b, so there were no other options but to move on”, admite Garret Temple. “Basically the idea was to sit and wait for things to happen by themselves”.