The dust hasn’t settled — nor should it.
But the NBA Playoffs will resume Saturday, according to a joint statement released by the NBA and NBA Players Association Friday afternoon. The statement confirmed previous reports that postseason basketball would continue inside the league’s COVID-19-free bubble in Orlando, Fla., and emphasized commitments the NBA and its players will make “regarding next steps to further our collective efforts and actions in support of social justice and racial equality.” Those pledges include:
- Forming an NBA social justice coalition to advance issues such as increased access to voting and criminal justice reform.
- Converting team-owned NBA arenas into voting locations for the 2020 presidential election, wherever possible.
- Dedicating advertising spots during remaining playoff games to messages “raising awareness around voter access and opportunity.”
NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts and NBA
Commissioner Adam Silver released the following joint statement today.
— NBPA (@TheNBPA) August 28, 2020
Friday’s statement follows two tense days of unprecedented NBA work stoppages — the first time games have been canceled because players refused to take the court — whose ripple effects shook the nation’s conscience and thunderclapped through the world of professional athletics and the legal sports gambling industry.
Outrage over police shooting of Jacob Blake
Wednesday afternoon, Milwaukee Bucks players decided not to leave their locker room prior to the scheduled Game 5 of their first-round playoff series with the Orlando Magic. Their actions were meant to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., earlier in the week. Blake, who is Black, was shot seven times in the back. In short order, the Magic joined the Bucks’ walkout, as did the rest of the NBA players participating in the league’s postseason bubble. Wednesday’s games were canceled, then Thursday’s, and now Friday’s. At times over the past 48 hours, it appeared as if the entire playoffs might be called off.
Athletes across other sports have chosen to join the NBA players’ protest. WNBA, MLB, and NHL games were canceled when athletes opted to sit out. Tennis pro Naomi Osaka tweeted that she wouldn’t participate in Thursday’s scheduled semifinal at the WTA Western and Southern Open, and the match was pushed back to Friday.
Major U.S. sportsbooks scrambled to respond to Wednesday’s surprise cancellations. BetMGM announced it would void and refund all bets on impacted markets and also that it would re-issue free bets and and pay out $100 in free bets to customers who had opted into promotional bets offered on the contests. Likewise, FanDuel, DraftKings, PointsBet, and FOXBet canceled all bets on affected games and refunded players’ accounts.
Thursday, FanDuel and DraftKings both tweeted statements echoing their support for Black Lives Matter and pledging to combat the enduring anti-Black racism that has plagued the United States throughout its history and re-emerged this summer after police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd sparked mass protests throughout the nation.
“We support our league partners and all players, teams, and coaches who are taking a stance,” said FanDuel’s statement. “We stand in solidarity with the Black community. Black Lives Matter.”
DraftKings pledged to donate 100% of the daily fantasy sports revenue generated by NBA and WNBA games on the leagues’ first day back to organizations working on behalf of racial justice in the United States.
“We’ve guaranteed a minimum of 100 [thousand dollars] but I expect we’ll be closer to half a million or more,” DraftKings CEO Jason Robins said on CNBC Friday morning. “This is a cause we’re very passionate about, so we’re much more focused on that than the day-to-day impact on the business. Obviously, we’d love to see the games resume and that’s something that’s important to us, but I think that there’s a larger issue at stake here, and this is an important time for us to be talking about that.”
"We are going to contribute 100% of the revenues we make from the first day back of both NBA & WNBA games to charities and other initiatives that support combating racism, and promoting racial justice and social justice," said @DraftKings CEO @JasonDRobins. pic.twitter.com/wcMHHB5AHW
— Squawk Box (@SquawkCNBC) August 28, 2020
What to expect when the NBA playoffs return
It may seem frivolous to wonder how this week’s events affect the remainder of the NBA playoffs on the court, but games will be won and lost, bets will be taken at retail and online sportsbooks throughout the United States, and players will go back to work on the hardwood.
When play resumes, it’s expected that the games that weren’t played on Wednesday will simply be shifted to Saturday, and the rest of the postseason calendar will follow suit, with everything pushed back three days from when it was previous scheduled. At the time of publication, the league had not yet released an official schedule for Saturday’s games, and online sportsbooks, which took down their lines after the NBA canceled games on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, still hadn’t posted odds for the anticipated weekend slate.
One factor bettors may want to consider as they plan their wagers for the NBA’s restart is how three days off the court might affect ongoing playoff matchups. It would be foolish to describe this week’s interruption to the schedule as “rest” — players, for the most part, were not receiving treatment on sore muscles or mild injuries, and basketball was the last thing on many players’ minds.
But three days of not putting one’s body through the rigors of an NBA game, after nearly two months of playing every other day, would still provide an opportunity for some healing. When Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard left the Orlando bubble after spraining his right knee in a Game 4 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Blazers were considered toast. They probably still are, down 3-1 with no chance of Lillard returning with the team facing elimination in Game 5. But if the rest of Portland’s players look somewhat rejuvenated, there could be some value in picking them against a likely double-digit point spread in a do-or-die game with a slim chance of Lillard returning for Game 6.
For Luka Doncic, the second-year star for the Dallas Mavericks, it looked like the stress of carrying his underdog team against the Los Angeles Clippers was finally catching up with him as the Mavs lost Game 5 154-111 and fell to a 2-3 deficit in the series. Could the extra time mean the return of the Doncic who logged a 40-point triple-double and nailed a game-winning three-pointer in overtime of Game 4? Hopes that the extra time could mean the return of Dallas center Kristaps Porzingis were dashed late Friday afternoon, when reports emerged that Porzingis was leaving the bubble to have knee surgery on a torn meniscus.
Even so, if Doncic can summon some more of that Game 4 magic, the Mavs might manage to beat the odds one more time, and their series with the Clippers may not be as over as it seemed three nights — that now feel like they could’ve been three years — ago.