From the Bubble, the Fight Continues for the NBA and WNBA

Gabe Zaldivar

There was a real worry among some players that starting the NBA season would curtail momentum built up over the weeks, momentum that aimed to raise awareness for social change.

On the cusp of the restart of the NBA’s season, it’s abundantly clear that the NBA and WNBA are using their respective bubbles as a new platform to inform, engage and fight.

Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving was joined by the Lakers’ Avery Bradley in voicing concerns ahead of the NBA’s relaunch.

A coalition of players posted a statement back in June that read in part, “We are all fathers, daughters, leaders and so much more. So what is our BIG picture? We are in this for UNITY and CHANGE.”

The two most pressing concerns remained the possibility of a social change movement being overshadowed by the league’s opening and the rising cases of COVID-19 in Florida.

The NBA and WNBA were to be dropped into what looked to be a rising coronavirus catastrophe while also being promised the safety of isolation. It’s easy to see why both would be of paramount concern.

After exhibition games have been played and players have utilized the notoriety, it’s clear that basketball is back and doing things the only way it can to succeed in this absurd time in which we find ourselves.

MLB has also returned but is now facing a rash of positive cases from the Miami Marlins organization. Cases that forced two games to be postponed just a weekend into the COVID-shortened season.

The demand to end racial injustice may have been sparked by the killing of George Floyd, but its momentum has reopened scars that need immediate healing, issues that need to be addressed and cases that need closure.

One is that of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old medical worker who was shot and killed in her home by Louisville Metro Police officers serving a no-knock warrant.

NBA players stuck in the bubble are seen far less frequently than they might ordinarily. Their press confrerences are streamed, telecommuted to the rest of the world much in the same way we all connect these days.

Players have discovered a way to make the most out of very little. LeBron James is just one player who is using his post-game interviews to talk about one thing.

“I want to continue to shed light on justice for Breonna Taylor and to her family and everything that's going on with that situation,” he said, via CNN.

"As one of the leaders of this league, I want her family to know, and I want the state of Kentucky to know that we feel for her and we want justice," James continued. "That's what it's all about. What's right is right, and what's wrong is wrong. This is the wrong situation that's going on in my eyes and a lot of other eyes -- not only here in America but around the world as well.”

CNN reports Taylor’s mother, Tameka Palmer, has been in touch wither several players, including Chris Paul. Those interactions have made it clear to Palmer where the NBA’s heart lies as the season is set to open on July 30.

"They don't want basketball to be a distraction for what's going on in the country," Palmer's family attorney, Lonita Baker, said via CNN. "So, this is their medium to call for reform and changes.

The WNBA is using their platform to make profound shows of solidarity. Rather than kneel in peaceful protest, the Seattle Storm and New York Liberty walked out during the national anthem before a game on Saturday.

As BuzzFeed News reports, the move was calculated and part of a broader effort to bring visibility to causes such as the Black Lives Matter movement.

According to the report, the WNBA and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) have agreed on public displays such as this to further the discussion on myriad causes.

A WNBA statement describes the collaborative effort.

“The mission of the Social Justice Council is to be a driving force of necessary and continuing conversations about race, voting rights, LGBTQ+ advocacy, and gun control amongst other important societal issues,” the statement reads.

Even behind the solitude of the bubble, NBA and WNBA players are being informed and motivated.

Former first lady Michelle Obama spoke on Sunday to several NBA and WNBA players on the power and necessity of voting, according to USA Today.

Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum was among those to speak with Obama on the phone and explained the conversation.

“It was more so just educational purposes and being able to ask questions about the importance of voting and how we can continue to empower our brothers and sisters to vote and what that means not only on the national level, but on the state and local level,” McCollum said, via USA Today.

Ahead of the season’s restart, James joined other players in launching a voter’s rights initiative called More Than a Vote.

“Because of everything that’s going on, people are finally starting to listen to us — we feel like we’re finally getting a foot in the door,” James said at the time. “How long is up to us. We don’t know. But we feel like we’re getting some ears and some attention, and this is the time for us to finally make a difference.”

None of this is easy.

There are no fans, family or familiar places for these athletes to visit. The isolation of the bubble is real and so are its effects on the players and so much of what they hope to accomplish.

Despite the hardships, the possibility of infection, the disorienting new normal, these athletes remain undeterred.

Deep within Florida the movement continues.