NBA: Issues 'unavoidable' but fans understand, says commissioner Silver

NBA bubble kneel
Members of the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz kneel before a Black Lives Matter logo before the start of their game at HP Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on July 30, 2020 in Reunion, Florida. (Ashley Landis-Pool / Getty Images / AFP)

NBA commissioner Adam Silver says the league must address social activism and political topics despite critics who want to escape such controversies through sport.

Silver told Sports Illustrated in a story released Thursday that the NBA had to take such actions as having messages on the back of player jerseys or "Black Lives Matter" written on the court for all NBA games in the Orlando COVID-19 restart bubble.

In the wake of the slaying of unarmed black man George Floyd while in police custody in May and the global protests that followed, the NBA needed to be part of the conversation.

"I understand critics who say that they turn to sports to avoid controversy," Silver told the magazine. "But it's unavoidable at this moment in time in our country. I wish there was an easier path for us to follow right now. Even if there were, I don't think it would necessarily be the responsible thing to do.

"I think our fans are able to separate words on the floor or messages on the players' jerseys or the floor. Even to the extent that they don't, I think they recognize that these are not simple times. 

"Our players are not one-dimensional people and they can both be deeply concerned about issues that our country faces and at the same time perform their craft at the highest level."

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James rebuked US President Donald Trump for his remarks on players kneeling during the pre-game playing of the US national anthem before games.

Trump said he turns off the television coverage of games when players kneel and James saying the NBA, whose players are about 80% black, won't miss having him not view their contests.

Silver says he is uncomfortable with criticism from conservatives, but the league is taking the proper steps with its social messaging moves.

"We were not in a position, given that we were attempting to return to play in the middle of all the social unrest, to avoid being part of the conversation... given that some of the most high-profile black people in the world play in the NBA," Silver said.

Silver said the NBA bubble has been "better than what we had envisioned. Players have taken to it in a more spirited way than we thought they would."

So far, there have been no confirmed positive tests for players who have gone through their initial quarantine period and into the bubble at Walt Disney World in Orlando, where the regular season comes to a close on Friday and the playoffs begin Monday.

NBA eyes fans in '20-21
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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (Photo by Stacy Revere / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

Silver said the league is already into plans for a 2020-21 campaign with ideas beyond a bubble but concerns that the status of COVID-19 will dictate much of what can happen.

"We are deep into the planning stages, but only to the extent that we have dozens of permutations as we look into next season," Silver said. "It's certainly not bubble or bust."

But the NBA wants teams playing back in front of spectators.

"Our first and highest priority would be to find a way to have fans in our arenas," he said. "We're continuing to look at all the different testing methods. We are current on vaccine developments and antivirals and other protocols.

"We're going to try to find the right balance between waiting as long as possible, so we have the best possible information at the time we're making the decision, and recognizing that, at some point, we have to begin to lock in plans.

"We would like to find a way to play in front of fans, but it's just too early to know how realistic this is."