What NBA players owe each other
Nets goalie Kyrie Irving is one of the NBA’s most prominent vaccine skeptics.
Photo: Bart Young / NBAE via Getty Images
I have a friend who worked for an NBA team that went into the bubble last summer. He wasn’t a fat guy or anything, but they gave him his own hotel room at Disney World, and every time he got bored he would text me to tell me what. it was all weird. Like waiting for the elevator and seeing the doors open to reveal the six foot, 11 inch Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo. “Descent?” They went to the pool together and passed a sunbathing Nikola Jokic, the big man of the Denver Nuggets. The health and safety protocols were as strict as you would imagine. The staff who cleaned their rooms every other day wore face masks and face protectors. He had to wear a mask everywhere and everyone was tested for COVID-19 daily, bar none. The new arrivals were quarantined for a week before they could see anyone.
What my friend was telling me, in so many words, was that the bubble was the best-kept place in Orlando, and perhaps in the country, to wait for the pandemic – a monument to the calculation of risk, wanted by a league that knew nothing less meant hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. The bubble also involved a compromise with the players. When they were negotiating with the NBA on how to continue their basketball season interrupted by COVID, union leaders insisted on one condition: that when they were in the bubble, they could still participate in the protests. this summer against police brutality.
What this commitment looked like was negotiated just as carefully. Its most visible features, at the beginning, were the messages players wore on their shirts instead of their last names – from “Black Lives Matter” phrases to the more innocuous “Group Economics”. For a hot minute, player participation in protests turned into something more drastic. The Milwaukee Bucks went on a wildcat strike on behalf of Jacob Blake, a black man gunned down by cops in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and it took days for them and the rest of the teams to start playing again. They had only come to an agreement after someone had spoken to Barack Obama on the phone and a handful of arenas had been made available as voting centers.
There were times when the NBA’s involvement seemed crucial, but for the most part it seemed secure, an order of magnitude removed from the hustle and bustle on the streets – a level of isolation that for some players, caused its share of psychic angst. Kyrie Irving, the idiosyncratic goalie for the Brooklyn Nets, led a push to burst the bubble before anyone else could. He organized a call between some other NBA players and John Carlos, the athlete-activist famous for raising a black-gloved fist at the 1968 Olympics, to float the idea that a restart of the season was inappropriate. Irving had undergone end-of-season surgery, so he wouldn’t have played in the bubble anyway. But the purpose of his appeal was to make others understand that something bigger than basketball was available to them, something riskier and heavier, but which better fulfilled the sense of social responsibility that they felt. was gnawing.
The bubble survived his effort, but another test was around the corner. The day before the 2021-22 season brought a COVID-19 vaccine. What would a similar negotiation between social responsibility and personal risk look like this time around?
In the end, so far, pretty good. Ninety percent of NBA players are vaccinated, well above the national rate of 55 percent, and for nearly all top players who say they are skeptical or opposed to getting the shot , there is an equally famous player who openly explains why they decided It was a good idea. This despite the National Basketball Players Association’s insistence that its union members should not be bound by a vaccination mandate, the pact that binds all other team members who work on or on. proximity to the field.
But opposition is still strong, whether it takes the form of reckless justifications or a deafening silence when pressed to elaborate on their vaccination status, and even pro-vaccines have been prepared to attribute this division to personal reasons best established in private. .
At a time of collective emergency, self-inclination reigns supreme. “Personal reasons,” said Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards of his initial refusal to be vaccinated, adding, “I would ask those who get vaccinated,“ Why are you still getting COVID? “(Beal appears to have since changed his stance from a harsh ‘no’ to ‘undecided.’)” It’s none of your business, “Golden State Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins said when asked to explain which of his “beliefs” he would violate if he got the shot. (Wiggins recently requested a religious exemption from San Francisco’s vaccination requirement for major indoor events, including Warriors basketball games. His petition was rejected.) “I would like to keep this all private.” Irving said when asked if he got the vaccine. (The Nets star’s aunt said Rolling stone that his decision is “not based on religion, it is based on morals,” although it is not clear whether this accurately reflects his nephew’s immunization status or his opinions.)
The lesser-known player of this cohort is Jonathan Issac of Orlando Magic, which hasn’t stopped him from being the most vocal. “[It] is my belief that each person’s immunization status should be their own choice, ”he said this week. “Completely theirs without intimidation, without pressure, without being forced to do it. Isaac’s concern, he says, is that he has already had COVID and has developed antibodies, so it might be more dangerous for him to risk an “adverse reaction” to the stroke than to contract the virus again, an argument that is not supported by scientific consensus.
The overwhelming response to these men from their peers has been a respectful nod. “Everyone has the choice to do what they think is good for themselves and their family” noted LeBron James, who is vaccinated, on Los Angeles Lakers media day on Tuesday. “We are talking about the bodies of individuals,” he continued, when a reporter urged him to know if he felt responsible for making others follow his example. “We are not talking about anything political, racism, police brutality or things of that nature.”
Needless to say, this is not true, and it is no more the way mass vaccination works than the protest movements against injustice. Both are collective efforts that place societal considerations above individual considerations. The barometer of his commitment to one or the other, traditionally, has been whether you are willing to risk your body, to make it vulnerable, in order to help others. The removal of this risk made some players feel too little involved in the struggles of last summer. They were there, safe in a bubble as America burned, and it inspired many of them to make unprecedented demands of their employers, and each other, in the name of collective responsibility. This sense of responsibility now eludes some when it comes to vaccines, a position that even their vaccinated peers believe comes from valid reasoning – the idea that at the end of the day, everyone has to do what they think. be the best for him.
Giving up the vaccine is a miscalculation of risk, but it comes from the same risk assessment model that made it so easy to turn a wildcat strike into a few new ballot boxes, and keep players silent about human rights violations. man in China, their main source of international income, while the league has turned its outspokenness about racist police into a publicity blitz. The social impact that players say they want to have requires principles beyond their personal interests. “At the end of the day, you’re always trying to find ways to be available and to protect each other,” James said as he explained why he chose to get the shot, and it really can be that simple.