Basketball is Coming Back, but Does it Matter?

If Coronavirus taught us to appreciate the frivolous-but-welcome distraction that basketball offers in our daily lives, the raw pain that has followed the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis (and then erupted into global protests) has reminded us of sport’s place in the grand scheme of life.

That is, it’s a luxury item and little more.

The NBA announced plans for its return this week after it was shut down on March 11 amid concerns that Coronavirus could run rampant throughout the league. (That truly seems like ages ago in another time and place.)

Other sports followed suit, and since then almost all major professional leagues in the United States have been looking to the NBA for leadership about returning to action, according to CNBC

This includes the WNBA. Kareem Copeland of the Washington Post reported that Commissioner Cathy Engelbert hopes her league can return for the majority of its season, but it will probably be in an NBA-like bubble scenario, with more details due to be announced.

Chicago Sky head coach James Wade wants to return, as long as it’s safe, telling the Double Clutch podcast: “As you get scientific facts about how we can play in the middle of this, my whole thing has always been about the safety of everyone: safety of players, families, friends, whoever is going to be around. If it’s possible, of course, you want to play. 

“But life is the most precious thing. I want to play,” he continued. “I think the players want to play. I think everybody wants to play, but we want to make sure that it’s in the right environment and the right situation. So, if that happens, and I think the WNBA is diligently on the road to making that happen, I’m all for it.”

The delay and the uncertainty leading up to this season—especially after a historic new Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed in the off-season, and some future stars like Sabrina Ionescu and Satou Sabally were drafted—has WNBA fans bubbling over with anticipation.

But the moment George Floyd’s breath left his body for the last time, so too did the enthusiasm of many involved with professional basketball.

The black community is expressing how tired and broken they are feeling by everything that has taken place in the past week. They are joined by many, many millions worldwide from every background and race.

So, you can understand why being sent out to perform might be the last thing on players’ minds. 

“Basketball is honestly not really important right now,” LA Sparks player Tierra Ruffin-Pratt said with a sigh during a media conference call earlier this week, as she tried to articulate her feelings about the racial injustice her community suffers. 

After signing with the LA Sparks last year, she is not even thinking about returning to the court.

She told TBW: “As an athlete, playing helps me cope and takes my mind off of life for a few hours. But once it’s over, we walk back into the reality that we live every day. I think as basketball players we can continue to use our platforms while we’re playing.

“But basketball coming back won’t change the pain and anger people are feeling about unarmed black people losing their lives to cops and racist white people.”

Wade might be keen for the WNBA to come back if it’s safe, but he doesn’t want its return to be a distraction.

“I just don’t want it to be something that causes amnesia. I want this to be something that continues to bother us,” he said.

“There’s something about this case in particular. The difference between people that lose their lives and George Floyd is the fact that you saw him on that video. You can see his face, and you can see him actually struggling to live. And I think that is something that’s going to stay with me.

“And I just want it to stay with everyone, so everybody can be motivated to keep this train rolling toward a solution of equality, you know?”

Some teams have been proactive in setting up programs to ensure this isn’t another instance that will be forgotten until another black person dies at the hands of the police. The Minnesota Lynx have been active around racial injustice for many years, and legendary guard Maya Moore missed last season to focus on helping a wrongfully convicted black man win a retrial.

This week, the team announced that it is joining forces with the Timberwolves to help reform the criminal justice system in Minneapolis

Ruffin-Pratt’s cousin was killed by police seven years ago, and her determination to keep the subject alive will go on, even if the league does return to play.

“Shedding light on any program, organization, or campaign out there dealing with racism and police brutality, we as a league or a team should support that in any way we can,” she said. “Maybe dedicating each game to raising money or awareness.”

She will find a way to keep the pain of her cousin’s death, and those more recently, with her:

“For me, if our season begins, I plan on wearing something to symbolize and bring awareness to everything that’s going on.

I haven’t figured out what yet, but there will be something.”

You can do something as well.

Donate to help people wrongfully arrested at protests in Minneapolis and all across the U.S., support Black Lives Matter, encourage others to become educated on local and national cases of injustice, listen to the stories of black people, and vote.

Most importantly, when the basketball starts, don’t forget that so many of your favorite players and coaches are still hurting and need your help.