When last we saw the Los Angeles Clippers, they were dismantling the Mavericks in Game 5 of the first-round series.
Since then, the world has taken another strange turn, players have boycotted the game they love, and then realized playing basketball is a job and a platform worth having.
But the basketball world will resume. There will be three games on Saturday to start the resumption, even though hearts and minds remain heavy and clearly have been elsewhere the last few days.
For the Mavericks, basketball will have to occupy their entire focus on Sunday, when Game 6 will be at 2:30 p.m., Dallas time. Lose, and their season is over. Win, and they force Game 7.
Basketball is that important.
But Friday was a time to analyze the greater importance of the grand scheme that’s happened to NBA players and fans during the second work stoppage of the year, this one considerably shorter than the COVID-19 four-month-plus interruption.
The players have realized just how important they can be in impacting social justice. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers hit on a major point that came out after two days of player/owner/league meetings.
“At the end of the day, it’s not the NBA’s job to solve the world,” Rivers said. “It’s the NBA’s job to be part of the world. And so, I think we’ve accomplished that part. But you still have to do your jobs.”
Yes, the games must continue. Coaches will coach. Players will play. Media members will continue to convey stories of basketball and racial consequence.
In the end, the NBA will do its job, which in turn will keep its best assets – the players – in front of America for the playoffs.
The Clippers, who will have to refocus quickly to try to close out the Mavericks, have been in the middle of the news the last few days as they and the crosstown Lakers were prepared to shut down the playoffs if they thought it was the best way to bring changes to racial inequality.
Did Rivers ever think the Clippers would leave the NBA bubble Wednesday or Thursday?
“No, no. I did not,” he said. “I think everyone else did, but I knew how high the emotions were, and I just had a lot of faith that it would all calm down. I guess the report was the Lakers and the Clippers (were prepared to leave).
“I think it was close, though. I don’t think it was a layup either way.”
In the end, after three rounds of meetings among players, team executives, league officials and even including Charlotte owner Michael Jordan, decisions were made to finish the playoffs.
The fact that players left in the bubble after this weekend also will be allowed to have family members join them cannot be dismissed as a factor. More than six weeks of isolation from family is a lot to ask of anyone.
“The players’ decision to play is an important one,” Mavericks’ coach Rick Carlisle said. “The fight goes on from here.”
Rivers said that players are realizing that they have more weight to throw around than perhaps anybody knew.
He described the progression of meetings – players only to players and the league – thusly.
“That (first) meeting had a lot of anger, a lot of voices, a lot of emotion,” Rivers said. “Emotion is great. Being emotional sometimes is not, if you know what I mean? But it was out there. We got to hear what people felt and thought. So to me, that was very powerful.
“That’s what I told our guys. (You’re) learning how powerful you can be.”
Rivers said the next meeting on Thursday morning was more about talking without emotion and a final meeting Thursday night was about going to work by putting thoughts into action.
Clippers’ guard Patrick Beverley said the dialogue between players, the players’ association and the league was critical to getting through some difficult times.
“It’s hard to get so many NBA guys in one room together,” Beverley said. “You probably have some of the wealthiest African-Americans in the country. And when you get in one room and you get to talk, just like you believe in certain things I might not believe in and vice-versa, it’s good dialogue, good conversations, which led to action.
And that’s the most important thing. We’re excited to stay here. We’re excited to not only compete, but be a pioneer in today’s change within the world.”
Essentially, as Rivers said, the NBA “needed a moment to breathe.”
They had to step back and decompress, but also process what was going on in the world. Part of the reason why they agreed to the NBA bubble was to give everybody a platform to address police violence against unarmed black people.
The recent shooting of Jacob Blake reopened that discussion.
Players, coaches and the league agreed on a coalition to address situations and fight for change at all levels.
Rivers said it’s been a learning process for everybody involved.
“I would honestly admit that I didn’t see how much effect the bubble has,” he said. “The bubble has an effect. I’m the first to say that I missed that. That’s nothing to do with politics. That’s to do with real life. And so we have to really monitor that better.”
As for the lasting impact of what the players and teams and league are doing in the bubble?
“I’m just hoping it’s not a one-hit wonder,” Rivers said. “This has to continue. And I think that’s why the coalition is so important, because it’s not just about today.”