With a group of players concerned about the NBA restarting its season amid a pandemic and social unrest around the country, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he is listening and his sense is that the league and its players will be able to "work through most of those issues over the next few weeks."
Silver and Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard acknowledged the concern that some players expressed about returning safely in a bubblelike environment near Orlando, Florida, while also not detracting from the current protests and fight against social injustice in the country.
"Listen, it's not an ideal situation," Silver said of the challenges the NBA is facing in an appearance on Monday night's The Return to Sports special on ESPN. "We are trying to find a way to our own normalcy in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of essentially a recession or worse with 40 million unemployed, and now with enormous social unrest in the country. And so as we work through these issues, I can understand how some players may feel, that it's not for them ... it may be for family reasons, it may be for health reasons they have, or it may be because they feel -- as some players have said very recently -- that their time is best spent elsewhere."
"Things are changing around us," Silver later added. "The social unrest in the country was -- in the same way we never could have predicted the pandemic would unfold, in the way it has -- what's happened since George Floyd's death is also unprecedented. I'm incredibly sympathetic and empathetic to what's happening in people's lives. And in the midst of all that, to say, 'We're looking for an opportunity to restart this league, to try to move forward with crowning a champion,' it's not top of mind for a lot of people."
A coalition of players, including Brooklyn Nets All-Star Kyrie Irving and Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley, is examining the NBA's plan to restart with growing concerns by some players about returning at the forefront, sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Malika Andrews. Lakers center Dwight Howard also has expressed concern about taking focus from the social injustice facing black people in the United States.
"As far as the racial injustice, I think that's where a lot of the struggle is for a lot of athletes," Lillard said on "Return to Sports." "I think our league is made up of so many African American players. And a lot of our hearts are with our people; our minds are with our people. And we feel like we should be a part of that fight. And that's where the struggle is; I think that's where you're hearing a lot of guys kinda coming out, saying maybe we should be focused on that instead of worrying about going back in and jumping into the season."
Lillard admitted that he does not "feel 100 percent comfortable" about returning with the coronavirus having infected 2.1 million people and killing more than 116,000 in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University. But he said it is a risk he is willing to take and that the NBA returning can allow players to have a financial impact on their communities and the social movement that has seen protests around the country following Floyd's death on May 25.
"I can only speak for myself -- but I think it goes for other guys as well -- we are the financial support for our families and for a lot of our community," Lillard said. "We bring a lot of that financial responsibility to support black businesses in black communities. So it makes a lot of sense for us [to return], from that standpoint.
"But I think a lot of guys in the league have a point. I think Kyrie and Dwight have a point. So I understand it all."
Silver said that there may not be "a uniform view" among the players who will be returning with the 22 teams involved in the restart, which is tentatively scheduled for the end of July. The NBA will continue to talk and work with the NBPA to find the best solutions to resume the season, keep teams healthy and keep the social justice movement at the forefront for the league and its players.
Silver believes the NBA, as it often has promoted, will continue to be a platform for players to fight for racial equality. The NBA continues to talk with players to figure out more ways to try to generate change and ideas. The league wants to bring in speakers to talk to players in Orlando about issues and how to improve situations in their communities.
With everything happening around the country, Lillard said he is not sure what it will be like for players to play basketball again.
"It's something that none of us have experienced in our lifetime," Lillard said. "I mean, the world literally shut down -- I don't know if that's ever happened or when was the last time it did, if it has happened. But I think it'll be difficult, to say the least, because a lot of our hearts are with our people.
"So that's hard to go out there and be your best self, or the best version of yourself as an athlete, when something isn't sitting right with you personally. That's something that's not just going to go away. So we're not sure how it's gonna go. But we're gonna see when we get there."
Silver said it will take "enormous sacrifice on behalf of everyone" to return with all the challenges that lie ahead.
"A lot of people pointed to the financial component of this," Silver said. "The incremental difference between, at this point, playing and not playing, isn't nearly as great as people think, especially given the enormous expense in putting this on. Really, it's more a sense from the entire NBA community that we have an obligation to try this, because the alternative is to stay on the sidelines ... in essence, give in to this virus ... For us, we feel that this is what we do: We put on NBA basketball. We think that for the country, it'll be a respite [from] the enormous difficulties people are dealing with in their lives right now.
"And in terms of social justice issues, it'll be an opportunity for NBA players in the greater community to draw attention to the issues because the world's attention will be on the NBA in Orlando if we're able to pull this off. What should this league, that may have a unique opportunity as compared to almost any other organization in the world, be doing in response to George Floyd's death, to endemic racial issues in society? I've heard this loud and clear -- the statements have been issued, foundations have been announced, contributions. But there's an expectation that there's more that this league can do; and I think part of it's gonna require a fair amount of listening, something we've been doing already. But then engaging in very deliberate behavior, together with the players, in terms of how can we use our larger platform, the NBA together with the players, really to effect change."