No, seriously. It’s here. It’s finally here.
One hundred forty-one days after the NBA shut down due to the coronavirus, the only thing on planet Earth that’s better than crab legs or cracked pepper made its triumphant return. Here are some takeaways from re-opening night.
Social Justice Was Front and Center
In the weeks leading up to the NBA’s restart, players were adamant that social justice would remain at the forefront and not be eclipsed by the return of sports. So on its re-opening night, we saw players, coaches and referees take a knee during the national anthem after weeks of players redirecting press interviews to discuss the death of Breonna Taylor.
But it was Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell who drove that point home by showing up to the game with a bulletproof vest adorned with the names of countless victims of police brutality, along with the message “Respect Our Existence or Expect Resistance.”
As for the games themselves, all four teams scheduled to play on Thursday night took a knee during the national anthem, as had been rumored in the days leading up to re-opening night.
“Grateful to be back doing what I love the most,” Jazz star Rudy Gobert tweeted. “Let’s all keep inspiring the younger generations and make this world a better place for everyone.”
And with “Black Lives Matter” printed on the court, players wore their choice of social justice messages on their jerseys.
After the Lakers-Clippers game, LeBron James made it a point to shoutout the man who sacrificed his career by birthing this movement years ago.
“I hope we made [Colin Kaepernick] proud,” he said. “I hope we continue to make Kap proud every single day. I hope I make him proud on how I live my life, not only out on the basketball floor but off the floor.”
Maybe We Don’t Need Fans After All
I can’t speak on the energy in the arena, but in watching from home, I was astonished by the league’s ability to replicate a traditional basketball atmosphere despite the absence of fans. I wasn’t the only one who was pleasantly surprised either.
Perhaps I was so captivated by the action on the court that I paid no mind to the inaction off of it. But considering the roars (and boos) of the crowd are so intrinsic to NBA basketball, I wasn’t distracted at all by the fact that the best athletes in the world were playing in front of their peers—and virtual fans like former Miami Heat star Chris Bosh.
Now admittedly, while the virtual fans thing is innovative, it is a bit awkward as hell. Again, it didn’t detract from the experience overall since I barely paid them any mind, but when you see Kawhi Leonard shooting free throws while virtual Laker fans attempt to distract him, I couldn’t help but feel like I was trapped in a game of NBA 2K.
Once families are finally allowed to enter the bubble after the first round of the playoffs, this dynamic will change entirely. But for the time being, this isn’t the game we all know and love, but it’s not the substitute teacher that deserves our scorn either. It wasn’t until LeBron’s post-game interview that I realized how silent it actually was in the arena, although it was dope to see players from other teams at the games sizing up their competition.
Good shit, NBA.
LeBron Refuses to Age
Does King James know he’s supposed to be washed up? Age and attrition eventually laid claim to Michael Jordan, and even Kobe Bryant looked human in the twilight of his career, but outside of his graying beard and frayed hairline, King James looked like a God amongst men last night. His box score wasn’t particularly flattering—16 points, 11 boards and 7 dimes is considered an off night when your name is LeBron James—but the dude looked nowhere near his 35 years of age. Especially in the final moments of the game, when he put the clamps on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the same damn play to secure the Lakers’ 103-101 victory.
LeBron spoke on the ongoing battle for Los Angeles after the game.
“We’re two teams in the same city and two teams that’s fighting for one common goal,” he said. “And that’s to win a championship and bring it to the city of Los Angeles and [each] fan base. […] No matter what the [situation] is, no matter what the bubble is, no fans, or [with] fans, basketball is basketball and competitive spirit is competitive spirit, so we’re right back to where we left off.”
And while he might not age, the game definitely took its toll on the four-time MVP.
“First game back since March,” he said in a video posted on Instagram. “And I’m on the floor.”
Welcome back, NBA.