From Florida with Love: What the NBA Bubble is Teaching Us
The National Basketball Association has been successful during its time in the Orlando Bubble. With professional basketball being moved to a singular location, the NBA has proven that through social distancing, wearing masks and implementing new and efficient cleaning protocols, some form of normalcy is attainable. The league has provided fans with around-the-clock games, exclusive interviews and an even bigger stage for social justice. The NBA is teaching us a few things during this modified season and it’s time that we all began to listen: Social justice and sports go hand in hand; Players wield the power; Support is necessary; And sports is a highly reliant escape from society.
The NBA Bubble works: The league implemented an extensive Covid-19 plan and stuck to it since the restart. What the plan subconsciously unveiled, is that combatting Covid-19 is a team sport. Each and every person must be held accountable and hold others accountable in order for the bubble to be a success. Normalcy is attainable if individuals think about every one person instead of themselves. Temporary fun and adventure will not help things return to how they were if individuals continue to put themselves and others at risk. Like the NBA, society must be willing to sacrifice their personal wants for the greater good, which means no bars or partying and staying inside for a while. Or, if you do plan to attend events make sure that masks are required and safety measures are taken like required cleaning and sanitizing, and avoiding too crowded places. If the players can sacrifice time away from their families, social distance and maintain protocol, so can (we) society.
Social justice and sports go, and will remain, hand in hand: The NBA supports their players movements and initiatives, instead of silencing or ignoring them. In the past, we have seen social activism in sports with athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Muhammed Ali, Colin Kaepernick and others. As we all know, using your platform as an athlete helps to raise awareness on issues and gather support for a cause on a national or international level. The access players have to the media has more influence than social media petitions and groundwork, although all are simultaneously important. With the world now revolving around media, the connectivity between society’s has increased. After the media has shared a piece of information, it is almost always guaranteed to go viral or reach large numbers of people. Because of this, players are realizing their range and are now creating more opportunities for social activism and rebuilding community relations on and off the court.
Players wield the power: The National Basketball Player Association (NBPA) and the NBA negotiated terms of the Orlando restart. President Chris Paul, who spent the last 11 years on the executive committee, has been thoroughly involved in the league’s transition. “Paul, in his role with the NBPA, spent hours on phone calls, Zoom meetings, texts and emails addressing concerns from players while continuing to plan the season.” Through his dedication ensuring players safety and fair competition, Paul is highly accredited and recognized for helping the league’s restart. Moreover, social activism has been pushed by the players by wearing messages on their jerseys like “Say her name,” “How many more,” “Justice,” “Equality,” and “Vote.” By wearing these jerseys, players are taking a stance and raising awareness through sports about their individual or team causes. Along with this, some players have gone the extra mile to exercise sports activism in more than one way. Lebron James has used his platform to promote his new organization More Than a Vote: comprised of Black artists, athletes and individuals who are working together to fight against systemic voter suppression. Players like former WNBA star Lisa Leslie, former NFL quarterback Michael Vick, Toronto Raptor guard Kyle Lowry and others such as comedian Kevin Hart and singer Toni Braxton are among those affiliated. Other players have creatively advocated by creating social justice clothing like Russell Westbrook, or by traditionally educating the media and fellow players on race reform like Jaylen Brown. Additionally, players use their voices and time during post-game interviews to speak about racial injustices and the case of Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman killed by police while she was sleeping in her home. The players have expressed a call to action to Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and demanding the police who shot Taylor are arrested for her death. Players are exercising their star power, right to contribute and free speech. The players wield the power: without the dedication and work of Chris Paul and others, the NBA Bubble may not have been a success. Through continued negotiations between the NBA and NBPA, it was shown that players voices matter and put at the front of this operation. We are seeing players take advantage of their power by using their voice to demand justice, educate society, create community initiatives and to fund projects and campaigns. Athletes power do not only take place on the court, they are more than just an athlete.
Support is necessary: The NBA and its players showed massive amount of support to other sports leagues and players before and during the bubble restart. The WNBA season began again on July 25, five days before the NBA restart. On this day and a few days before, many players across the NBA and other leagues were seen wearing the WNBA signature orange hoodie. The support the women’s league received during their 2020 season restart exuded past seasons, as their ratings drastically increased. They had the Most-Watched Opener since 2012 and were up 63% from the 2019 regular season viewership average on ESPN networks . The two leagues have been sending support to each other all season long and it increases as the games continue. Additionally, players Kyle Kuzma, Stephen Curry, LeBron James and others showed support to NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace. A noose was found as the garage tie in his stall during preparations for the GEICO 500 at the Talledega Superspeedway in Alabama. Players across leagues rallied behind Wallace and offered support and consolation after he posted a response via social media. Support is not only a good thing to do for one another, but it is necessary. The WNBA has had a thriving restart because of the support of other players across different leagues– their influence in watching and supporting the women’s league caused others (us) to support and watch too. After the noose incident with Wallace, more Black people wanted to support his career with NASCAR and learn a new sport. Racing is not glamorized to the Black community, but Black people have become more interested after learning of Wallace, being the only Black racer. Wallace was overcome with emotions as racers and fellow athletes came to his defense. Support is necessary because feeling good and helping other people feel good should be normal. It gives us confidence throughout our daily habits and the ability to continue days when you’re stretched too thin or second guessing yourself. Athletes are not machines or robots, they are human beings just as you and I, and need regular support, love and friendship. This also transcends into the Orlando bubble, where players must work to support one another to stay ontop of their training, to not break Covid-19 protocols, and to keep their heads in the game.
Sports is a highly reliant escape from society: We already know that sports serves as an escape from our every day problems or duties. We watch sports to forget about the long work day, exhaustive studying or our inability to be productive on occasion. Sports gives us an excuse to be lazy whether we want to admit it or not, if only for a few hours. It is a way for people to bond through shared love of teams or a fiery rivalry (Go Gators!) It’s entertainment. But, when entertainment fuses with societal issues people are turned off. The saying, “Keep politics out of sports” has been circulating heavily for the past 4 years since the Kaepernick kneel. Although this term was not coined recently in sports, it has been publicized more now than in past years. And with sports leagues and players taking action to support Black Lives Matter and the Black community, basic human rights have been twisted into political arguments. People are beginning to think that, “…politics has become so integrated within even the most menial aspects of our lives” and that it will soon began to decimate sports altogether. As I mentioned earlier, sports and social activism has and will always be around; however, human rights issues are not a political tool and misinterpreting the two is what could hurt sports. There is a difference between pushing a political agenda for a candidate or a policy (such as airing presidential ads during the Super bowl), and advocating for all humans to receive the same respect and deserved rights. Society does not want to see and constantly listen to what they think is a political agenda, when players are in fact emphasizing the need for equal and equitable rights. Black Lives Matter is more than just an organization, it is a saying that literal Black lives matter and should not be expendable by police, or anyone else. Until society is ready to have these uncomfortable conversations about racism, white privilege and police brutality instead of acting like we are past these issues, the cycle will continue and more Black people will continue to be killed.
From Florida with Love, the NBA has shown its hand as the league that cares the most about its players wants and needs, and society too. The league has single-handedly created a social justice platform for various messages, generated high levels of support for other leagues and players and even funded a new and improved, but affordable Covid-19 saliva test. We can all learn a thing or two from the NBA about being a leader and taking action when no one wants to make the first move. Let’s continue to listen to one another and come to an understanding of what the movements are all about and what we can do to help push things along. “Expressing criticism of society is not being a grouch,” – Noam Chomsky.
Happy 8/24 day! It has been seven months since we lost one of the greatest basketball superstars, Kobe Bryant. Today in LA and Orange County, Kobe is being recognized and the day is chartered especially to him and the legacy he left behind in the city, in the league and in everyone’s heart. Let us continue to reflect on his legacy and the celebration of life for he and Gianna Bryant, gone too sone but never forgotten. Click here for tonight’s playoff game dedication game to Kobe Bryant by the Los Angeles Lakers.
There has been another incident with the shooting of an unarmed, nonviolent Black man. Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, was shot seven times by Wisconsin police Sunday. For more information and the story, click here.