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Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard joined ESPN’s Mike Greenberg as part of the network’s The Return of Sports special Monday and discussed the NBA‘s potential return amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a national focus on systemic racism and police brutality.
“I think Kyrie [Irving] and Dwight [Howard] have a point,” Lillard said of two of the players who have notably raised concerns about returning to play.
The Trail Blazers guard said “I don’t feel 100 percent comfortable, but it’s a risk that I’m willing to take” when talking about playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic but acknowledged many are more concerned with the fight against racism.
“A lot of our hearts are with our people,” he said. “Our mind is with our people. We feel like we should be a part of that, we should be a part of that fight. … Maybe we should be focused on that.”
He also recognized that playing would provide players with a bigger platform to talk about the issues and the ability to make money for their families and to support Black communities.
Adrian Wojnarowski and Malika Andrews of ESPN reported Irving and Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley organized a coalition of players and held calls on Friday and Monday to discuss potential concerns such as taking away attention from the fight against racism and police brutality if the season resumes.
Howard’s agent, Charles Briscoe, told Dave McMenamin of ESPN he is unsure if his client will return to play with the Los Angeles Lakers in Orlando, Florida, because he is so focused on the current national conversation.
Briscoe also provided CNN’s Jill Martin with a statement from Howard saying “Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment and will only be a distraction.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver also joined Greenberg on Monday and said he understands some players may decide not to play and will “accept” such decisions. He also acknowledged “the enormous sacrifice” players and staff will make if they resume the season in Orlando starting on July 30:
Silver suggested returning to play would mean there was an “opportunity for NBA players in the greater community to draw attention to these issues because the world’s attention will be on the NBA,” which is something Lillard mentioned as well.