Former NBA star and TNT analyst Charles Barkley criticized the league for focusing too much on the optics of supporting Black Lives Matter and racial justice protesters.
“Instead of talking about racial equality, racial justice and economic justice, we spend all our time worrying about who’s kneeling and not kneeling, what things are being said on buses, what’s being said on jerseys, Barkley said in a phone interview with CNBC‘s Power Lunch on Friday. “I think we’re missing the point.”
Barkley said that any public message the league or its players takes as the season is scheduled to resume this month in a COVID-19 bubble in Orlando should keep police and prison reform at their core. The NBA is allowing players to replace their names on their jerseys with messages like “Equality” and “I Can’t Breathe.”
“When we spend time focusing on what’s on the jersey, that’s gonna defeat the purpose,” Barkley warned. “My concern is this is turning into a circus instead of trying to do some good stuff.”
Barkley also said he wonders how the fans will react.
“Fans are at a disadvantage, they’re going through the pandemic. They don’t want to see a bunch of rich people talking about stuff all the time. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer,” he says. “People lost jobs and the last thing they want to do is turn on the television to hear arguments about stuff all the time.”
Players for 22 NBA teams have been steadily arriving at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, where the league hopes to finish their 2019-20 season after it was suspended at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March. The teams will play in a bubble environment at the resort’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex with all players, staff, and hotel employees receiving regular tests. Games are set to resume on July 30, with the NBA Finals set to take place in early October.
Since George Floyd’s killing in Minnesota in May and subsequent protests around the world, city councils in various American cities have made moves to reduce police budgets and increase oversight of police and their use of force. The Los Angeles City Council has made a $150 million cut to LAPD’s budget while a veto-proof majority of the Seattle City Council pledged to cut their city’s police budget in half this weekend.