The NBA is planning on returning to action next month despite the novel coronavirus pandemic, but some notable players are opposed to the idea. In turn, Charles Barkley is very much opposed to those players’ hesitance about resuming the 2019-20 season.
“I think it would be stupid to not play,” Barkley said Monday on ESPN.
The TNT analyst and Hall of Famer was asked for his thoughts on recent comments by the Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Dwight Howard. Irving and Howard assert that rather than playing, it’s more important to take advantage of a moment when major positive change for black people appears attainable.
“I have no idea what Kyrie or Dwight are talking about, but it’d be a catastrophic mistake not to play,” Barkley said.
Citing “two reasons” he thought it would be a grave error to halt the NBA’s progress toward a resumption, Barkley said, “No. 1, if they don’t play, they’re going to be out of sight, out of mind for the rest of the year. There won’t be any cameras following.
“LeBron [James of the Los Angeles Lakers] is probably the most famous athlete in the United States. He won’t be visible anywhere,” Barkley continued. “So, out of sight, out of mind. Also, these guys have got to realize this money ain’t gonna come back, and they’re gonna lose billions of dollars that the players can use to go into their own communities and do some great stuff.”
Describing a possible return to play as a “distraction” that “isn’t needed at this moment,” Howard had said Saturday in a statement, “Sure it might not distract us the players, but we have resources at hand [the] majority of our community don’t have.”
“I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA Championship,” added Howard, a 34-year-old in his 16th professional season. “But the unity of My People would be an even bigger Championship, that’s just [too] beautiful to pass up. . . . No Basketball till we get things resolved.”
Irving, a ninth-year veteran who is one of six elected vice presidents of the National Basketball Players Association, was reported to have been a strong voice against the plan to resume the season in a call Friday with more than 80 NBA and WNBA players.
“I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving said on the call, reported The Athletic, referring to the Disney-owned site where the league is planning to stage the rest of its season in a protective bubble of sorts. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bulls---. . . . Something smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.”
Other players have raised concerns about health, both in terms of the coronavirus and a possibly increased chance of major injury after a months-long layoff. Carmelo Anthony of the Portland Trail Blazers recently said of the plan that “it’s hard to commit to it 100 percent” until all the details are hammered out and disseminated.
ESPN reported Monday that an informal coalition of NBA players, including Irving and the Lakers’ Avery Bradley, was forming to express reservations that some might not want to share individually for fear of retribution.
“We are combating the issues that matter most: We will not accept the racial injustices that continue to be ignored in our communities,” the coalition said in a statement provided to ESPN. “We will not be kept in the dark when it comes to our health and well-being. And we will not ignore the financial motivations/expectations that have prevented us historically from making sound decisions.”
James, a four-time NBA MVP and the league’s most influential player, is thought to be in favor of a return to play. Patrick Beverley of the Los Angeles Clippers wrote Sunday on Twitter that if James is “hooping,” then “we all hooping.”
“Not Personal only BUSINESS,” Beverley added.
James, who has frequently been outspoken on political and social issues, recently announced he was helping to form a voting-rights organization largely aimed at assisting black people in overcoming a “structurally racist” system. The 35-year-old said last week that with demonstrations taking place throughout the United States in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, “We feel like we’re getting some ears and some attention, and this is the time for us to finally make a difference.”
Asked on ESPN on Monday to provide his perspective on what has unfolded in the country over the past few weeks, Barkley replied, “It’s been rough.”
Claiming it would be “disingenuous” to portray himself as having had the same recent experiences as most black people, given his wealth and fame, Barkley said anyone with “any humanity” would have to be affected by the deaths of Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, as well as by footage of similar violent episodes.
“Ever since I was 18, I’ve been pretty well-known, but that does not mean I don’t understand the black plight,” he said. “And when you see stuff on television, it’s painful.”