clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

On Trevor Ariza and the NBA Season Restarting

New, comments

The Blazer’s Edge Mailbag explores the connection between pro sports and basic humanity.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers forward Trevor Ariza has decided to sit out the 2019-20 NBA season restart in Orlando, Florida next month. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that Ariza was opting to spend the month with his son, in accordance with his pre-scheduled visitation program.

Reactions to the news were varied, depending largely on perspective. Among them was this Blazer’s Edge Mailbag question.

Dear Dave,

Ariza is skipping the rest of the season. Kudos to him for thinking of family first. I assume that’s your take too? I’d still like to hear you say it and how you feel about the re-starting season.

Kimberly

I am fully supportive of Trevor Ariza skipping the season restart in Orlando this summer. This isn’t because of an affinity for family, specifically. I’d be supportive of him staying home if his family unit consisted of nothing but himself. I support him because he’s a human being. For that same reason I support Ariza’s son and the need to see his dad. I also support his ex and the need/right to negotiate over childcare.

One of the things that disturbed me about the initial news breaking was the claim that Ariza’s co-parent “wouldn’t switch the visitation time”. Not only do I wonder how we know the full story on that, I wonder why it should matter. She gets to be a whole human being too, not just an ex-partner of a pro ballplayer bound eternally to external demands that we all place upon him. Both the phrasing and the implication were poor, in my estimation.

I am absolutely against reducing human beings to objects, considering them important only to the extent they deliver things we, the public, need from them. Part of Ariza’s identity is professional basketball player. That tells us something about his particular expression of humanity. So does being a father. So do a million other things. His personhood is wrapped up in all of them, but not predicated on any.

We’re free to feel however we wish about a player missing games for the Blazers. If we’re sad or disappointed, so be it. We can own those feelings. But those are our feelings. Like every basketball player, Ariza has a life and purpose beyond them. His personal validity isn’t predicated on giving us what we want.

The golden rule: All people are human first, everything else second. Signing an NBA contract doesn’t change that.

As a follow up, I feel the need to talk about something with you all.

Blazer’s Edge will cover the NBA season restart. Not doing so would have little practical effect. National and local outlets will surely be following whether or not we do. And hey, there are probably good reasons to write about the event.

As we cover the games, our site will speak the language of basketball, with all the enthusiasm and professionalism you’ve come to expect. Again, there’s little point in doing otherwise. Writing about the sport while lamenting writing about the sport is self-defeating. It wouldn’t erase the problematic parts, it’d simply drain out the good.

That doesn’t mean that I’m happy that the NBA is restarting at this time and in this manner. Personally, I’m not. Because of who they are and what’s at stake, we knew they were going to do something. I think they could have proceeded in safer, saner fashion. I would have been fine with them skipping the whole thing, having a tournament of four, or just letting the Lakers and Bucks play it out for the 2020 title.

I don’t care as much about the basketball aspects of this as the human aspects. Basketball significance will fade over time. The validity of this restart will probably last until the moment observers figure out that the championship is being decided not just by talent and team play, but by which rosters remain least affected by COVID-19. Even if we get a relatively unstained process, people will always put an asterisk on this season. In time, it’ll blend into a hundred other championships, significant mostly to the team who ends up winning it.

Human beings are supposed to mean more than that. I get the human urge to gain immortality by achieving unique acts remembered long after they pass. I understand that the effect of a life can outlive the individual who lives it. I’m just not sure anything that happens on a court this summer in Orlando will achieve that. Anybody remember any of the winners of the ancient Grecian Olympic festivals? How about medalists from the 1950’s modern Olympics?

When achieving that kind of “immortality” comes by risking real, human lives, I’m not sure we’ve done anything worth remembering. Lives matter more. Health matters more. I could make an argument that every career on the line in Orlando matters more than the actual title this year. If my glory costs you your lungs and your ability to continue the career you’ve dedicated your life to, is that glory worth celebrating? What if that title alters the lives of coaches, trainers, or families, referees or staff at the event?

During normal seasons, we don’t have to ask these questions...at least not on this kind of system-wide scale. We’re forced to this year, but it still feels like we’re pretending otherwise. It feels like as long as we have an NBA Champion and some sense of completion, all other problems will solve themselves. As anyone who’s had a friend or relative suffer, let alone die, from this virus will tell you, that’s not even close to true.

Let’s be honest. We’re now participating in a reality where a national news figure has encouraged us to critique the decisions of a player’s ex-partner regarding visitation for her son, the results of which will keep a relatively minor small forward on a low-contention team out of an abbreviated season that maybe shouldn’t be played anyway. We’re also participating in a reality where those same news-breakers release COVID-19 information like it was free agency or draft news. Maybe this reality is necessary? That doesn’t mean it’s good, or anything short of ridiculous.

So yes, we’ll cover this. That’s what we do when the NBA plays. Please don’t mistake that for approval. If, God forbid, something should happen to a player or a family member, let our voice be registered before the ball ever tipped on Game 1 of the restart. We’re writing about this because we have to, not because we think it’s right. As human beings, myself and the members of the Blazer’s Edge Staff are entitled to opinions too, even if those include incredulity that the season is restarting in this manner.

I guess if you pushed me, I’d say I hoped everyone stays healthy in Orlando (obviously) and that fans of the NBA are able to enjoy it. The fact that we even have to address agonizing family and health issues more than a month before the first game commences might already indicate that the restart experiment, as constructed, was not worth it either way. Even in the best-case scenario, the final game of the 2020 NBA Playoffs won’t bring a sense of pleased accomplishment as much as relief.

—Dave Deckard (blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard / @blazersedge)