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As NBA Players Debate Plan to Return, Many Face Financial Reckoning

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The National Basketball Association has plans to return in July, setting up a bubble-like environment at Disney World in Orlando, Florida where teams will compete but players will have little to no contact with the outside world for the duration of the season. 

However, as the start date looms, many NBA players are concerned about returning. 

Between the strict regulations of the bubble—including leaving family behind for up to three months—and many athlete's desires to stay focused on the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for racial equity, some players are questioning the timing of the return.

But the financial implications of not going back to play are significant, explains Sports Illustrated's Rohan Nadkarni.

"My assumption is that they're going to have to play no matter what. There's just too much financial motivation on both sides. One way it gets resolved is if the owners and the league kind of agree to negotiate in good faith. But instead, what we're hearing is they're gonna tear up the CBA.," said Nadkarni.

"They're gonna ask for a bigger percentage of basketball related income in the next round of negotiations. And I think that's part of the problem right now is, you know, for all the trust that there is on both sides, if the assumption is the owners are going to use this situation to take more money from the players if they don't want to come back, what does that really say about their partnership?"

According to ESPN's Bobby Marks, the economics of not playing are "devastating." The NBA will be given the leverage to tear up the CBA and implement a structure that's less player-friendly next year. Furthermore, players will lost money for each game not played, amounting to $1.2 billion lost in player salaries—35% of their total pay.

But for some athletes, the financial sacrifice might be worth it.

"I think something that, you know, it's impossible not to notice as much as we've seen players kind of show up at these protests, show up to talk about, you know, social injustice and police brutality. We haven't really seen the league talk about that or the owners talk about that. So I think the players are right to be concerned about what coming back would do to that movement," said Nankarni.

Renee Montgomery, a player with the WNBA, put the tension between playing and not like this: “We are more than ‘just’ professional basketball players—like other Americans, we are trying to balance our careers, our families and our activist passions to support our home communities that are calling for leadership right now. The “bubble” in Orlando might be where we can play basketball, but it’s the world outside the bubble that needs our dedication as well."

According to Forbes, the average NBA player salary is $7.7 million. 

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