NBA is back, again. This time on the heels of anger, division, politics and activism

Basketball is back, again.

The NBA playoffs will pick up Saturday where they were left Wednesday afternoon, when the Milwaukee Bucks chose not to play their Game 5 against Orlando in protest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

The Bucks will indeed play that Game 5 of their first-round series with the Magic, at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. The Rockets and Thunder will follow as they play their pivotal game 5 at 6:30 p.m. The Lakers and Blazers close out the night at 9:30 p.m. as the Lakers look to put the Blazers out of their misery.

The return to the court isn’t as simple as it sounds.

The past 72 hours inside the bubble have been filled with high emotions. Players we’re furious over the news of the Jacob Blake shooting. That anger, combined with the mental toll of being away form their families, isolated from the streets protests were taking place. The players were feeling hopeless.

As of Wednesday evening, after the Bucks executed their protest without telling anybody about it beforehand, the Lakers and Clippers, with some of the best, most powerful players in the league, didn’t want to finish the playoffs anymore. Frustrations in the room during a players meeting that night were widespread, compounded by the mental anguish of relative isolation following nearly two months inside the bubble. LeBron James, of all people, walked out of the players’ meeting after making his feelings known.

“I don’t even know that that meeting went well,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who was invited by union president Chris Paul to address the players that night. “That meeting had a lot of anger, a lot of voices, a lot of emotion.”

A big reason why James was angry was due to the lack of planning and involvement. Danny Green said the team was napping when there was a knock on the players’ doors, telling them what had happened with the Bucks and that a team meeting was imminent. That, combined with bubble life and the news of Jacob Blake had James frustrated. It boiled over during the meeting when he walked out and voted to end the season.

LeBron’s mood shifted after he consulted with former President Barack Obama, who advised him to play.

“He was at a place where he was fighting with his mind and fighting with his heart,” Green said about James. “You could tell the bubble wasn’t just getting to him, but to everybody.”

Rivers said he didn’t think his team would actually be leaving the bubble after what went down Wednesday night, but, I think everyone else did. Green said the Lakers “considered it, we considered all options.” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said “obviously it did feel like there was a chance” it was all over, though he didn’t think it would ultimately happen.

There were individual team meetings. Intrasquad meetings. Meetings between players and owners. And then more of them.

What came out of all of those meetings, whether they were face to face or on Zoom or the phone, was first a unanimous consent from all 13 remaining playoff teams to pick the playoffs back up again, and then for the league, which had already agreed to pay $300 million over 10 years into a fund for social justice initiatives, to be even more forward leaning when it comes to the causes that are important to the players.

Patrick Beverley, one of the outspoken Clippers who initially was pushing the team to pack it up and head home, had a heated clash with Michele Roberts, the executive director of the players’ union.

“It came out to be positive,” Beverly said. “Anything with communication, good communication, bad communication, emotional communication, any type of communication leads to answers. We’ve been fortunate to have a great NBA foundation that we were able to take care of our families, and communication was good and it led to some action, and that’s the most important thing.”

Chris Paul, who not only leads the union but is also the point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder, said in his 15-year career “I’ve never seen anything like it” when describing the intense meetings.

He compared it the 1967 “Cleveland Summit,” when Muhammad Ali, then-Lew Alcindor, Jim Brown, and Bill Russell convened with civil rights and anti-war activists in what is considered a watershed moment for both movements.

“We’re not saying that we’re that, but what we’re doing right now in our league is huge,” Paul said. “And I think for the young guys in our league, to get a chance to see how guys are really coming together and speaking and see real change, real action.”

Paul went on to explain that the league is “tired.” Tired spiritually and emotionally from witnessing numerous incidents like the Blake shooting, the George Floyd killing, and so many others.

Players, coaches, referees, and team officials inside the bubble have knelt for every national anthem; “Black Lives Matter” is written on the players’ pregame warm-up shirts and on the courts at Disney; and many have used their time in front of media to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, shot and killed by Louisville, Ky., police, or to call attention to instances of racial crimes throughout American history.

And after months of doing all of that, when Blake was shot, followed by the shooting deaths of two people who protested that shooting, the players felt like drained, as if their calls for justice have felt on deaf ears.

“When George Hill (of the Milwaukee Bucks) spoke, he talked about being a Black man and he was hurt,” Paul said. “He was hurt. We’re all hurt. We’re all tired of just seeing the same thing over and over again and everybody just expects us to be OK, just because we get paid great money. You know, we’re human. We have real feelings. And I’m glad that we got the chance to get in a room together to talk with one another and not just cross paths and say, ‘Good luck in your game today.’”

While everyone felt the pain of Hill, not everyone agreed with the way he conducted himself and his thought process. Miami Heat veteran Udonis Halsem voice was one of the loudest as he made a clear message to Hill.

Haslem stated that it was irresponsible and selfish for an established veteran to suggest that everyone should go home because younger players haven’t accumulated the wealth for such a drastic action.

One of the outcomes of the meetings include has been for the owners to open up their arenas as voting stations. There were already 11 arenas (Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indiana, Milwaukee, Sacramento, Washington, and Utah) committed to serving as polling places for the November election.

There are seven other arenas in America owned by the owner of the NBA team that plays there, in San Francisco with the Warriors, Brooklyn, Memphis, Miami, New York, Phoenix, and Portland. All of which plan on joining the initiative.

LeBron and numerous other pro athletes have started a group called “More Than a Vote,” which has worked to help turn some of the aforementioned arenas into a polling location, like Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena and Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum, and even Dodger Stadium in baseball. LeBron’s group is still working on others, such as Miami.

Rivers said the coalition should seek law changes not only at the federal level, but at state and local levels too. He mentioned by name the “George Floyd Bill,” passed by the U.S. House but unlikely to move in the Republican-controlled Senate, that would enact a number of new protocols for police across the U.S.

Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police when an officer knelt on his neck during an arrest in May, sparking protests across the country.

“We needed a moment to breathe,” Rivers said. “It’s not lost on me that George Floyd didn’t get that moment. But we did. And we took it.”

To get “Floyd” bill passed would require Democrats to win the Senate in November. Without speaking about party affiliation, Rivers said voting was key. According to a report by The Undefeated, only 20 percent of NBA players are registered to vote, and Paul and Rivers are among those trying to get them to register.

“We’ve got to get people to vote,” Rivers said. “Black men — Black and Brown men have to vote, have to vote, and so the registration — the suppression right now has never been higher. Our players understood that, and so that’s important. And so we’ve just got to keep moving forward.”

And now all that’s left is to, what, hoop? Not so fast. First must come cooling down and healing.

Teams returned to practice Friday, but several, including the Bucks, Raptors, Celtics, and Nuggets, canceled media availabilities while their players continue the healing process.

The players’ families are on campus and about to break quarantine, which should help. But the league has another month-plus to navigate keeping the virus out of its bubble, keeping its players mentally strong enough to endure this, prove its commitment to their causes is true, and in mid-October, crown a champion.

In a letter to NBA and WNBA teams penned Friday morning, Silver told them “I have heard from several of you directly and I understand the pain, anger, and frustration that so many of us are feeling in this moment.

“I wholeheartedly support NBA and WNBA players and their commitment to shining a light on important issues of social justice,” Silver wrote. Like the NBA, the WNBA temporarily shut down its playoffs this week.

“I understand that some of you feel the league should be doing more,” Silver wrote. “I hear you — and please know that I am focused on ensuring that we as a league are affecting real change both within our organization and in communities across the country.”

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