Inside look at how the Lakers weighed ending vs. resuming the season
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The door banged loudly outside Danny Green’s room. The text messages and news alerts flooded Frank Vogel’s phone.
So much for the Los Angeles Lakers’ hopes of taking a pre-game nap at Gran Destino Tower where they have lodged for the past 1½ months. At around 4 ET on Wednesday and five hours prior to their playoff game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Lakers all woke up to the news that the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their game against the Orlando Magic to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
So, the Lakers arranged what Green called "an emergency meeting." About an hour later, the NBA announced that it would postpone its other two scheduled playoff games, including the Lakers’ Game 5 matchup against Portland.
"I think it was a good thing," Green said about the Bucks’ boycott. "We didn’t have a say and it wasn’t an ideal situation of what had happened or a plan, but we needed time to talk as a unit and as a group. Even though we compete every day with each other, we have a lot of pride. We love this game and we want to win and we look at each other as the enemy sometimes. But we are in this together."
USA TODAY Sports' Jeff Zillgitt breaks down the demand from NBA players after boycotting playoff games.
"We weren’t trying to make a decision for the whole league, but once we got in there, we were hearing certain things, different things," Green said without sharing specifics. "You can see the energy shifting with different teams. Certain teams were for it, certain teams weren’t. Certain teams were saying they weren’t for it, and next thing they changed their mind. It went back and forth with different parties."
Players had frank discussions with the NBPA about various things. Would the league provide more commitment to social justice efforts beyond approving of players kneeling during the national anthem, to wear messages on their jersey and speak about such topics in interviews? Would the league spend more on causes beyond the $1 million each of the 30 teams has pledged to spend over the next 10 years to fund a foundation aimed to help the Black community? Will the players have the biggest platform to oversee change during the NBA playoffs on a campus bubble with access to a camera and microphones? Or should they go back to their respective communities?
As USA TODAY Sports and other outlets reported, the Lakers and Clippers indicated they were against resuming the season before leaving the meeting. Green did not say if Lakers star LeBron James was in favor of resuming or canceling the season. But Green said "he made a decision for us" after talking internally with all of his teammates.
"He was kind of in a place where he was fighting with his mind and his heart. His heart was in one place, his mind was in another," Green said. "And you could just tell that the bubble is getting not just to him, but to everybody."
Danny Green on LeBron James and how he handled the past 48 hours pic.twitter.com/JLBOREjdi2
Still, Green contended that also happened because "guys just needed a break" and "guys were just ready to get out of there once things kind of got heated." Green also noted that players simply also wanted to eat and go to the bathroom, too.
"For them to think that we were going to get everything done that night was unrealistic," Green said. "But it wasn’t as crazy as everybody made it seem. The details aren’t as drastic as the things you heard that certain people said that were negative aren’t like that. But there was some things said, some people felt that there was some disrespect going on and it was checked. But nothing crazy."
Nonetheless, Green said he and other players struggled to sleep that night because of the emotions and uncertainty. Though Vogel declined to specify to what extent he talked to players about the issues, he did not seem as concerned.
"I felt like it would land in a place where we would resume playing. But it did obviously feel like there was a chance, for sure, that we wouldn’t resume," Vogel said. "But I felt like ultimately when it was talked out, that the final decision would be to resume."
Vogel turned out to be correct. The players met again on Thursday morning just as the league’s board of governors had their own meeting. Players and team governors representing the league's 13 remaining playoff teams also participated in a video conference call Thursday afternoon with league officials, the NBA players union and Michael Jordan, who serves as the league's Labor Relations Committee Chairman. During that meeting, James, Green, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo offered their input.
LeBron James (23) and Anthony Davis (3) (Photo: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)
"To shut it down would have been silly. But it would be silly for us to not get some type of change and get some type action," Green said. "History is being made right now, and trying to make it for the good and for the better. We’re trying to come out on the good end of history."
Teams are trying to do that while also trying to juggle their day-to-day jobs. Green admitted the difficulty amid tough games, family isolation and ongoing racial inequality. But as Vogel noted, "we have a PhD in handling adversity by now" through the preseason China controversy, Kobe Bryant's passing, the pandemic, the suspended season and the season restart. And in the past two days, the Lakers mulled over whether they wanted to resume or end the season amid concerns about racial inequality.
So when the Lakers resumed practice on Friday, Vogel opted for a lighter session that involved scrimmaging. When the Lakers opened their doors at the end of practice, James and Davis appeared in a jovial mood while competing in a free-throw competition.
"They communicate, and they love each other," Vogel said. "When you have genuine feelings towards one another and a commitment to one another, I think you can lean on each other in tough times."
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