If you were a casual fan of the NBA during the second half of last season, it may have been tough to distinguish the players from each other. Across the back of most players’ jerseys were social justice messages, replacing the last name of those NBA players. This season, those messages are gone.
The 2019-20 NBA season was quite a challenge
The coronavirus (COVID-19) wreaked havoc with the NBA (and everything else) beginning in March. The sports world was stunned on March 11 when it was learned that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus. The announcement was made before Utah’s game with the Oklahoma City Thunder and basketball as we once knew it, has never been the same.
Basketball was put on hold for four months as the country was introduced to COVID-19. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was questioned daily on whether or not the season would resume. How long would it take to bring basketball back? Would fans be able to attend?
The NBA players returned in July with a whole different look to the league. Every game was played in Orlando, Florida. The league went to a ‘bubble’ to help minimize the spread of the virus. No fans were allowed at the games. Silver’s plan worked as the league finished its season in October and had no games interrupted because of COVID-19.
NBA players were very active in promoting racial equality
On May 25, George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck during an arrest, sparking outrage throughout the country. Several NBA players spoke out, using their social media platforms to address social injustice. Protests went on throughout the country and there were several NBA players who were unsure if returning to work was the right thing to do. They believed that the return of the NBA might take the attention away from the fight against racial inequality.
The NBA always had a rule that stated players had to stand for the national anthem. NBA players followed the lead of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick by kneeling for the anthem. Also, the NBA had ‘Black Lives Matter’ written down the sidelines of their courts.
The league also allowed players to wear league-approved messages regarding social justice on the back of their jerseys. Players wore anything from ‘Black Lives Matter’ to ‘Equality’ to ‘Education Reform.’ While most of the players did wear the messages, not all did.
There will be no messages for the 2020-21 season
While the NBA was doing its best to bring awareness to the racial inequality in the country, the league was watching its television ratings tank. According to Bloomberg.com, the ratings were down 51% from a year ago. Multiple factors contributed to the decline. The NBA season went into September and October and had to compete with the NFL and the MLB playoffs. Sports bars weren’t open either, taking a good chunk of viewers away. Some people simply had enough of the league and its social justice messages.
Although the league is clearly committed in its stance against racial inequality, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in October that those messages would likely be gone when the 2020-21 season rolled around. The season opened Tuesday night and there were no more jersey messages.
“We’re completely committed to standing for social justice and racial equality,” Silver said, according to CBS Sports. “It’s part of the DNA of this league.” I would say in terms of the messages you see on the court on our jerseys, this was an extraordinary moment in time when we began the discussions with the players and what we all lived through this summer. My sense is there will be some sort of return to normalcy, That those messages will largely be left to be delivered off the floor. And I understand those people who are saying ‘I’m on your side, but I want to watch a basketball game.'”