As the NBA and its players union move closer to finalizing a return-to-play agreement, the issue of participation has become a major problem. The risk of contracting COVID-19, the ongoing protests against police brutality against African Americans and concerns over being separated from families for the early portion of this return have made a number of players hesitant to head to Orlando and take the court, and according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the return agreement that the league and players are working on is not expected to punish players for choosing not to make the trip. Those players would forfeit the prorated portion of their salary that they would have earned for games played, but would not face discipline from the league.
The NBA‘s current plan calls for families to join players in Orlando after the first round of the postseason, which would come around two months into their time at Disney. The idea is to maintain a steady number of around 1,600 people in the bubble at a time. Family joining players in Orlando would need to undergo a quarantine period upon arrival.
Even so, the threat of coronavirus still looms over the NBA’s planned return. Florida has seen a recent spike in positive tests, and while governor Ron DeSantis claims that it is due to increased testing, there is no way of knowing how safe Orlando will be when teams arrive a month from now.
Even if it is safe, many players may simply have different priorities at the moment. According to former NBA player Matt Barnes, a number of current players, including those on contenders like the Lakers and Bucks, have discussed boycotting the remainder of the season to focus on improving race relations in the United States in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. The NBA has historically been very progressive on issues of race, but taking basketball away from a populace desperate for entertainment right now would send a powerful message to fans about the importance of what is happening in the world right now.
No players have publicly refused to make the trip to Florida for the remainder of the season. Any who wish to do so will likely wait until the agreement is finalized to ensure that they will not be punished for doing so. While both the players and owners have billions of dollars on the line with this potential return, it is simply a matter of fact that there are bigger things than basketball happening at the moment. While the league would likely prefer to have all of its players in Orlando, it seems to understand that their focus may be on more important things.