When the risks associated with the spread of COVID-19 forced the NBA to suspend the season last Wednesday, it was clear that the majority of the players and executives that occupy the top one percent of American wealth would not be significantly impacted.
What was not immediately clear is how the play stoppage would affect the thousands of arena workers, many of whom undoubtedly live check-to-check.
NBA players, sensing the vulnerability of the workforce impacted by the stoppage, immediately began stepping up.
Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zion Williamson and others pledged to donate significant amounts of money to help alleviate the economic stress placed on many of these arena workers during this hiatus.
When Oakland area schools closed because of the risks of COVID-19, Stephen Curry and his wife Ayesha Curry teamed up with a food bank to provide more than one million meals to students in the area that rely on the educational system for daily nutrition.
The players that have responded to the sudden needs of their coworkers have received a ton of support from the public.
Even former United States President, Barack Obama, praised the players for their initiative to help their communities.
Where were the owners in the very immediate aftermath of this life-changing development?
Perhaps there were internal communications to staffs ensuring ongoing financial support, but it seems as though it was the generosity of some of these athletes that forced—or at the very least motivated—their billionaire bosses to step up.
Following the announcement of Williamson’s pledge to cover all New Orleans Pelicans staff’s salaries for 30 days, the Pelicans released a statement that said the organization and owner Gayle Benson were working with the Smoothie King Center to help compensate arena employees.
Antetokounmpo’s $100,000 donation prompted the Milwaukee Bucks to match all player donations to part-time arena workers at the Fiserv Forum.
Brooklyn Nets owner, Joe Tsai, responded to a tweet by Spencer Dinwiddie that called for the Nets to “take care of the non-salary arena staff.” Tsai said that the Nets are working on a plan to help those employees.
Love was the first player to publicly announce his donation to the arena workers in Cleveland, doing so less than 24 hours after the announcement of the season’s suspension. The Cavaliers forward then announced on his Instagram account that team owner Dan Gilbert had decided to compensate all of the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse hourly and event staff members as if the regular season was taking place.
But what if Love hadn’t been so generous, so immediately?
Would the owners and management groups of these NBA franchises—all valued at several hundred million dollars, some worth billions—thought about the part-time and hourly workers that help them generate hundreds of millions of dollars in a given season, and to what degree?
The fact that I even have to ask these questions, signifies the issue.
While Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban, was the first to announce his intention to create a payment plan for arena workers, several teams—including the Celtics, Heat, Timberwolves, Thunder, Magic, Trailblazers, Spurs and Jazz have yet to release any statement from ownership detailing a payment plan for arena workers.
Yet, Utah Center Rudy Gobert, the first NBA player to test positive for the coronavirus, has planned to donate $500,000 to support both the employee relief fund at Vivint Smart Home Arena and COVID-related social services relief in Utah, Oklahoma City and within the French health care system. And Minnesota’s Karl Anthony Towns will donate $100,000 to the Mayo Clinic in order to help it detect the virus more effectively.
Players in the league have continuously been on the right side of humanity in times of crisis. They help push society forward by using their platforms to create new social precedents and refuse to stand for inequalities that neglect specific groups.
However, even with more economic prowess and an elevated network, the majority of owners never seem to possess that same fire.
In 2016, Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade opened the ESPY awards by taking a strong stance against police brutality and violence against unarmed black people.
Buck’s guard Sterling Brown has become an activist against racial injustice after alleging Milwaukee police officers used excessive force when a stun gun was used on him following a parking violation in January 2018.
Love and San Antonio Spurs guard Demar Derozan have become advocates for mental health awareness and have ushered in a new era of openness for, not only more players, but more of their fans to feel comfortable talking about their mental health struggles.
Time after time, athletes have responded to their social obligations, even when inaction might have been more comfortable for them.
It’s time their billionaire employers start matching their compassion and activism.