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Set to return next month, the NBA reportedly drew criticism from high-profile players like Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving over whether the restart would prevent players from participating in the nationwide movement for racial justice.
In a newly released interview, Los Angeles Clippers Chairman Steve Ballmer said on Tuesday that a return may have the opposite effect, telling Yahoo Finance that the resumption of games could afford players an even larger platform to advocate for social change.
After outlining some of the safety precautions taken by the league to ensure players’ health, Ballmer addressed concerns about how the restart might hinder players’ ability to speak out.
“Obviously, there’s also the issues of racial injustice that are so much in the news right now,” says Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft (MSFT) who bought the Clippers in 2014.
He noted ongoing talks between the NBA and the players union about how to put a spotlight on racial justice issues when the games come back.
“The league and the NBA Players Association are also in discussions about how to elevate those to focus on those, and not take our players away from the voices they can have, but to allow them to have maybe even more voice through restarting the season,” Ballmer said.
In the aftermath of the police killing of Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, many NBA players joined protests advocating for police reform and racial equality. In early June, union representatives from the league’s teams voted unanimously to approve a restart of the season, but concerns about its potential impact on players’ participation in protests later emerged from a set of players led by Irving.
Ballmer made the remarks in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
After a 14-year tenure as chief executive of Microsoft, Ballmer bought the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion after the league forced his predecessor Donald Sterling to sell the franchise when audio surfaced of Sterling making racist remarks.
In 2017, Ballmer founded USAFacts, a nonprofit organization that curates and distributes publicly available government data.
The league last Tuesday released a 113-page protocol that details extensive safety measures as well as restrictions placed on the everyday lives of players, including a minimum 10-day quarantine for any player who leaves the Disney World campus without NBA approval. In recent days, several players have announced they’ll opt out of the restart, but none have done so for political reasons.
“The goal is to be safer than almost any other environment a player could put themselves in,” Ballmer says. “So, safer than the world at large.”
“With lots of testing and other appropriate quarantining and masks, and the league is working hard on that,” he adds. “Hopefully that part works out.”