Thunder point guard Chris Paul had his chance on Friday.
He could have braced us for bad news or predicted the NBA’s return under some not-yet-defined-construct in a way that would lead us all to believe him.
He punted instead.
On ESPN’s “The Jump,” the network's daily show about all things NBA, mostly, it appeared, Paul was there to plug a docuseries — “Blackballed” — that he helped produce in addition to playing a key role.
It’s the behind-the-scenes story of the moment and moments thereafter, when then-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on audio clearly exposing himself as a racist.
Paul was a Clipper when the events occurred, in April and May of 2014.
Eventually, the NBA banned Sterling for life and forced him to sell the team.
In the middle of it, the Clippers seriously considered boycotting a playoff game or two, in protest of the man who owned the team.
“Blackballed” becomes available through Quibi on Monday and the advance reviews have been good.
The reviews on Paul’s performance answering questions about the uncertainty surrounding the resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season, however, should not be.
The most promising thing he said was this:
“A lot of hard conversations that have to be made, a lot of hard decisions. But with the team around us, I think, ultimately, we’ll get where we want to,” Paul said. “Obviously, we want to play. Oh, man, we want to play … I think that’s the consensus for the guys around the league.
“We want it to be as safe as possible, but the biggest thing is we miss the game.”
Host Rachel Nichols asked Paul how we would define “safe,” mentioning that if the league’s waiting on a coronavirus vaccine, in addition to not finishing the current season, it might not ever begin the 2020-2021 season.
“It sounds like we need to get you on one of these committees Rach, so you can figure out what needs to happen so we can get back and play,” Paul said. “I don’t have the answers. I don’t have all of the answers. I know that people are working tirelessly trying to figure it out.”
That might have been a reasonable response were Paul not the president of the players’ association, but he is the president of the players’ association.
He should have an answer of substance ready and, for crying out loud, he should have had a better answer than that.
Finally, before his part of the show was over, he was asked, yes or no, will the NBA be back to conclude the 2019-20 season?
“I hope so,” he said.
It was an airball of an answer from a man who, on the court for Oklahoma City this season, has been full of terrific answers.
Paul could have said that the big question is testing, and how much testing would be available by the time players would have to return to the court because the players are willing to live in a bubble to complete the season, but it’s a big bubble and demands mass testing.
He could have said the league and the players would have no problem figuring out the finances as long as everybody felt safe enough to resume, that the question is entirely about safety, because everything else has already been agreed to or easily could be.
It’s probably a mistake to presume Paul doesn’t know more than he claimed. He’s a pro’s pro, thoughtful, exactly the kind of guy who ought to be president of the players’ association.
Likely, he was more than happy to plug the docuseries he helped produce and figured he’d evade all questions about the NBA coming back, even while he assured everybody the players want to come back.
NBA players have been allowed to return to their organization’s facilities since May 8 and some of those facilities have opened, though many more, like the Thunder’s, have not.
It was last week we learned the NBA had made it clear to the players that 40 percent of all revenue comes from fans in seats, and it was last week we learned the NBA could hold out until June before making a final decision on the suspended season.
It’s just too bad Chris Paul couldn’t have offered a little more of himself at a time the rest of us know so little.
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