Hey! Tonight is the official restart of the 2019-20 NBA season! For your viewing pleasure, the Utah Jazz take on the New Orleans Pelicans, followed by a match-up between the two L.A. teams, the Lakers and the Clippers. Those are your opening night contests. We made it!
As we’ve noted elsewhere, the Raptors don’t play until Saturday in their opening game against LeBron James and the Lakers. In preparation for that, we can watch how the league and its broadcast partners will carry on with the presentation of the games in the so-called Disney World Bubble. We’ve gotten a taste so far — with all sorts of digital projections and Zoom fan-heads — but now comes the real deal.
Before we get into the actual games that count though, we have to reflect on what’s been happening in the Bubble as of late. And, as goes the titles of this column, we’re going to grapple with some real world stuff too. Sorry in advance!
Call it organizational discipline or just a solid sense of right and wrong, but so far it seems like the Raptors will be one of the teams that truly understands the NBA’s bubble regulations. So far we’ve seen players looking for (reasonable) personal exceptions, dealing with family matters and such. (Though Alex Caruso’s sisters’ 100-person wedding is a tad suspect.) We’ve seen former Raptor Bruno Caboclo accidentally break quarantine but still make it back OK (he even got a few minutes against Toronto in their scrimmage). And, of course, we’ve seen the Lou Williams controversy come and (mostly) go.
The optics weren’t great, is really the thing. If Lou had gone out to a family function or some other matter of life-and-death, I suspect most would have been more forgiving of any lapse in judgement. Instead he paid a visit to well-known strip club Magic City to get in on their delicious chicken wings. (Also the guy he was visiting, rapper Jack Harlow, attempted to lie and cover up the whole incident.) As a result, we got Kendrick Perkins, ever an opportunist, trash-talking Williams on TV — never a good outcome — along with a flurry of headlines and online jokes and the like. (I myself had a good laugh at the amount of times the description “gentleman’s club” was used.)
But this whole situation points to what was also always going to be a problem with the NBA’s Bubble scenario. How do you keep hundreds of people locked up in a hotel complex with minimal in-and-out traffic allowed? Would you want to do that for months at a time?
What’s even more difficult to think about now: as seems likely, America still won’t have its coronavirus response together come December, so what then? The Bubble made sense as a short term solution to finish the mostly done 2019-20 season, but can you run an entire season, all 82 games per team plus playoffs, in a bubble? As Lou Will has just exposed, it may be an impossible ask.
Speaking of bad optics — to say the least! — have you seen the various video clips out there from the various protests around the United States right now? Portland, Oregon is one such place, but there’s also been some high profile images coming from New York City and elsewhere. The scenes I’m referring to usually have protestors, people exercising their right to assemble and free speech, being hustled into unmarked vans by unidentified agents of the state. Are these folks local police, part of some federal bureau, military? What is going on here?
(Before you climb too high on your Toronto-based horse: We had a similar incident here too, with three people mysteriously detained for hours and the police quite clearly lying about much of what was going on. Still, it hasn’t quite escalated — yet.)
Now I know what some of you are thinking: if they all just went home quietly, if they just didn’t throw paint on that statue or destroy this or that piece of property, if they could just followed the orders of the people in charge, then they’d have no problem. Yes, it is indeed easy to stay home in these scenarios — especially during a pandemic — but when civil liberties are being crushed, we have a duty to ask ourselves who is being served by this action (or inaction). It’s a tough question, I know, but we need to face it head on.
And while it may sound absurd to invoke the word “facism” in this context — that’s something Nazi Germany did, not any government here in North America, surely! — that is exactly what’s happening here. It’s police actors, carrying out violent orders with minimal oversight (and sometimes with apparent glee). The opportunity for abuse here is off the charts. And if, say, the President of the United States decides it’s in his best interests to keep leaning that way — as he’s hinted at again and again over the past few years — he may go even further with it. Maybe he’ll float the idea to delay the upcoming election, for example, so as to keep his grip on power and stoke more violence. Oh wait...
Please, it’s important to keep in mind what the people on the ground are fighting for. Anti-fascist protests are not happening to “scare” people in the suburbs or whatever. A political statement like “Black Lives Matter” stands for what it stands for literally, but it is also a call to revolutionize and turnover the white supremicist bedrock of America (and Canada too). The people in Portland — the ones using leafblowers to disperse tear gas, the incoming Wall of Moms, the organizations seeking to defund and abolish the police — are trying to act in the best interests of the most vulnerable people in our society. They’re not just careening around town looking to start fires. They’re demanding recognition from the people in power, laying out terms, actionable items, and a new direction for all. Voting is nice and good, of course, but historically this recognition has been hard to come by through elections and has only been achieved by direct action. (There’s a reason we know who John Lewis was and why his passing was so sad.) It may be hard to see that at times — protests are loud and messy, and sometimes the footage coming out of them is indeed scary — but that is the ultimate end goal.
Remember: if the standard response to the requests of the people, large numbers of folks tired of being trampled on by the casual malice and inaction of the state, is to just charge in swinging a baton, or to corral and imprison people, or to calculate just how far to go with suspending or removing the inalienable rights of every man, woman, and child in the nation, well then: that’s bad. That is facism, happening in real time. It’s a notion, a will to power, that must be met by as much counter-force as possible.
To suggest peace will only be found via appeasement, to allow those in power to accrue even more power, is to fundamentally misunderstand what is at stake.