Austin Rivers tells Kyrie Irving NBA players can both play and protest

Austin Rivers says the return of NBA would benefit the Black community.

Two groups, divergent in opinion and social outlook, appear to be forming when it comes to the NBA’s projected restart at Walt Disney World in Orlando in July.

One is led by Kyrie Irving, a six-time All-Star point guard for the Brooklyn Nets who signed a max contract last offseason. Irving led a conference call with around 80 players on Friday and voiced his opposition to restarting the season, giving as his reason the social unrest occurring in the United States at the moment. “I don’t support going into Orlando. I’m not with the systematic racism and the bulls**t…Something smells a little fishy,” he reportedly said during the call, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

Irving is part of the NBA’s elite, one of 20 players making more than $30 million this season. He’s earned $125 million in his career. Austin Rivers of the Houston Rockets is emblematic of the more average NBA player. He’s 298th in the league in salary, earning $2.1 million this season; he’s earned less than $50 million in his eight-year career.

Rivers is part of the group in favor of going to Orlando next month. He responded to Irving’s comments in an Instagram post on Saturday, claiming that the players can do more to support Black Lives Matter by playing rather than sitting out.

“Trying to find the correlation,” he wrote. “Us coming back would be putting money in all our (NBA players) pockets. With this money you could help out even more people and continue to give more importantly your time and energy towards the BLM movement. Which I’m 100% on board with.”

He also suggested that giving NBA fans, a large portion of which are African-American, a form of entertainment would help keep them off the streets and getting into trouble. And he believes canceling the season would harm the sport in the long run, including affecting the 2020-21 season and the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Rivers has more of a financial stake in coming back to play. NBA players have already lost upwards of $300 million during the hiatus; if they don’t return, salary losses will be around $1.2 billion. Irving and his fellow All-Stars have already gotten their money. It’s players like Rivers who comprise the majority of the league and can’t handle the financial hit.

Irving wouldn’t even be a part of the NBA’s restart in Orlando. He’s already out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Rivers and the players on the 22 teams that will report to Orlando on July 7 will have to endure living and playing in a bubble potentially lasting several months. The season is scheduled to resume on July 30 and run until Aug. 14. The playoffs would begin on Aug. 17, with the last possible date of Game 7 of the NBA Finals falling on Oct. 13. That’s more than three months for the two teams who survive until the Finals without the ability to breach the bubble.

Irving may not be willing to endure that, not with protests continuing in several major American cities. Rivers, on the other hand, seems ready and willing to play.

“I love Kyrie’s passion towards helping this movement. It’s admirable and inspiring. I’m with it…but in the right way and not at the cost of the whole NBA and players careers,” he wrote.

“We can do both. We can play and we can help change the way black lives are lived. I think we have too! But canceling or boycotting return doesn’t do that in my opinion. Guys want to play and provide and help change!!!!”

If a little good for the community comes from playing out the rest of the 2019-20 NBA season, so much the better.

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