Dear Dwight Howard:
So I hear you’re not sure you want to come back and play basketball. Your team (also my team), the Los Angeles Lakers, was considered a championship contender before the season was abruptly halted by the coronavirus pandemic. Now comes word the NBA plans to resume a modified schedule on a closed campus at Walt Disney World.
But in a written statement last week to CNN, you questioned whether now is the time to be thinking about hoops. “Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment and will only be a distraction,” you said. “Especially with the way the climate is now. I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA Championship. But the unity of My People would be an even bigger Championship, that’s just to (sic) beautiful to pass up.”
Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets and C.J. McCollum of the Portland Trailblazers are also said to have reservations. Lou Williams of the L.A. Clippers has tweeted about the “distraction” basketball might pose, though he hasn’t said he won’t play.
And you know what? I’m not so sure you’re wrong. I’m also not so sure you’re right.
We are living through a year without historic parallel. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say it’s a year with too much historic parallel. It’s like a mash-up of history’s greatest hits, 1918 (the Flu Pandemic) meets 1929 (the Great Depression) meets, well … take your pick: 1943 (uprising in Harlem over police brutality); 1965 (uprising in Watts over police brutality); 1980 (uprising in Miami over police brutality); 1992 (uprising in L.A. over police brutality), to name only a few.
Any one of those — a pandemic, a depression or an uprising — would define a pretty tough year. This year has given us all three at once. And it’s only June.
People are exhausted, angry, on edge, exhausted, frightened, frustrated, exhausted, confused, troubled and exhausted. I take your point about not wanting to pull attention from what’s happening in the streets. The nonstop protests ignited by the horrific murder of George Floyd, to say nothing of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and now Rayshard Brooks, have constructed a moment of what Martin Luther King Jr. called “creative tension,” where real and substantive change suddenly feels possible.
You wouldn’t want to do anything that would ease the pressure. On the other hand, maybe there’s some way to use the platform the games provide to increase the pressure, redirecting attention to the need to tear down a corrupt system and replace it with something new. It’s a thought.
Because here’s the thing: In this angry, edgy, frightening, frustrating, confusing, troubling and exhausting moment, I’m sure I speak for more than just myself when I say that I need to scream at a number that’s only a score, not a death toll, need to groan over something that’s only a missed free throw, not a vanishing 401(k). I need to knock heads with somebody over something that’s not a tragedy, something that seems important but isn’t, really.
You think basketball would just be in the way. But you could also argue that it would be a mercy. A new federal study finds that depression and anxiety among Black Americans spiked in the week after Floyd was killed. But it is not just Black Americans. We are all bent under the load of this singular, awful, year. Maybe basketball would allow some of us, if only for the span of a ball in flight, just to be … weightless.
Give it some thought. I hear what you’re saying: Entertainment is a distraction we don’t need right now.
Maybe it is. Or maybe it’s a distraction we’ve never needed more.