“Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment and will only be a distraction,” Howard said in a statement provided by his agent to CNN. “Sure it might not distract us the players, but we have resources at hand (a) majority of our community don’t have. And the smallest distraction for them can start a trickle-down effect that may never stop. Especially with the way the climate is now.”
Conversations about systemic racism and racial injustice have been brought to the forefront of public conversation worldwide in the weeks since George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis, was killed by a police officer who kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. People, including many professional athletes, have taken to the streets to protest police brutality and to honour the numerous people of colour who have lost their lives due to the racist actions of others.
The NBA season has been shut down since March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but the league has a plan for 22-teams to resume play in Orlando at the end of July. However, players including Howard and Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving have spoken up recently to question whether returning at that time is a good idea, both for player safety and because games could turn the spotlight off those trying to send an important message about discrimination. Irving reportedly led a conference call with over 80 NBA and WNBA players on Friday, where he opposed going to Orlando and said “I’m willing to give up everything I have [for social reform].”
Howard said in his statement to CNN that he agrees with Irving and that — with the league shut down due to the pandemic — now is the perfect time for players to be with their families and focusing on things more important than basketball.
“I would love nothing more than to win my first NBA championship. But the unity of My People would be an even bigger championship,” Howard’s statement said. “That’s just (too) beautiful to pass up.
“This is a rare opportunity that, I believe, we as a community should be taking advantage of. When have we had this amount of time to sit and be with our families. This is where our Unity states. At home! With family!”
There are players who disagree with Howard and Irving’s proposal to not play. Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers made a case in favour of playing on Instagram, saying players could use the money earned from returning to the court to support Black Lives Matter causes and that games on TV could keep young people from “going out and getting into trouble.”
“I love Kyrie’s passion towards helping this movement,” Rivers wrote. “It’s admirable and inspiring. I’m with it… but not at the cost of the whole NBA and players’ careers. We can do both. We can play and we can help change the way Black lives are lived.”
In response to the players’ concerns, NBA spokesperson Mike Bass provided a statement to Marc Stein of The New York Times.
“We understand the players’ concerns and are working with the Players Association on finding the right balance to address them,” the statement said.