Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard released a statement Wednesday pushing back on the notion that he, Kyrie Irving and other players are attempting to “halt” the resumption of the NBA by expressing their reservations about continuing the 2019-20 season.
“Regardless of what criticism and retribution we face, we still want to protect the players who are afraid to protect themselves,” Howard said in part, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. “We will ask all the uncomfortable questions that can lead us all to truth and unity. Even if we are sacrificed and disliked, it will be better for everyone as a whole in knowing their feelings as human beings are just as relevant as the ones who dominate.”
Howard and Irving have been among the most prominent voices leading conversations among players who are hesitant to return in July. Players have cited safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic and wondered whether basketball’s return would distract from ongoing discussions about racial equality after the killing of George Floyd.
“I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving said on a conference call of about 80 players last week, per Charania. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bulls–t. … Something smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.”
Protests of police brutality and racial discrimination against black people have been ongoing nationwide since video of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes went viral on social media. Chauvin has been charged with second- and third-degree murder and third-degree manslaughter. Two pathologists determined Floyd’s death was a homicide.
Irving, who is the NBPA vice president and set up the conference call for players to voice their concerns, is not expected to play when the season resumes because of a shoulder injury. Howard is a key component of a Lakers team that’s expected to compete for a championship.
“As radical as Kyrie may sound, he is 100% correct. We are no longer slaves, so every man has a right to transparency in order to make sound decisions,” Howard said. “And as Avery [Bradley] said, in the decision we make, be sure we are thinking of everyone collectively and not moving based off of selfish agendas.”
Howard previously said basketball isn’t “needed right now” in a statement to CNN. He has, however, not said whether he plans on returning to the Lakers when players are due back in their markets next week.
The NBA said players will not be punished if they choose not to participate in the so-called Orlando “bubble.” Players are scheduled to be in their respective markets next week before traveling to Orlando on July 7. The season is set to resume July 30.