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Nets star Kyrie Irving takes lead in discussion about players, social justice and return to play plan

Nets guard Kyrie Irving looks on against the

Nets guard Kyrie Irving looks on against the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center on Jan. 31. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

There was a time when Kyrie Irving caused a sensation with his theories about the Earth being flat. Real? Maybe. But Friday night he threatened to throw the NBA’s world off its axis.

Irving hasn’t played much this season and already has announced that he won’t be rejoining the Nets if the season is resurrected in Orlando, something that certainly seemed a lot more assured before Irving organized a conference call Friday night with a huge contingent of NBA players.

ESPN and The Athletic reported that Irving led a discussion of nearly 100 players on subjects that touched on the logistics and risks of a return to play. The discussions focused mainly on the social justice that has brought so many of the players to the front lines of protests and filling their social media accounts.

The numbers tell you that the NBA will return to action next month as planned. The Board of Governors voted 29-1 to support the plan put forth by NBA commissioner Adam Silver and the National Basketball Players Association followed with a 28-0 approval on June 5.

But with talk centering on the impact of bringing back sports and the safety of players, the real numbers are the ones that the league doesn’t really want to say out loud — all of the money on the table.

Remember, this season began with Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeting support for protests in Hong Kong, which led to backlash in China and left Silver saying, “I think that the magnitude of the loss will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Certainly, probably less than $400 million. It’s substantial. I don’t want to run from that.”

Now start adding up the numbers lost in revenue when the season was shut down after the games of March 11 — the television revenue, the ticket sales, the money spent in arenas. Even if the league begins games with 22 teams as planned on June 30, there will be no fans at the games. And there are no guarantees that when the NBA gets to the 2020-21 season, fans will be in the arenas.

So there is a stake in getting back on the court for the league — and for the players, too. If the NBA does not return this season, it has the possibility of triggering a rip-up of the collective bargaining agreement, and the players won’t be happy when the losses rung up this season start reworking the numbers in a new deal.

ESPN’s Bobby Marks, a former executive with the Nets, estimated the loss at $2 billion for the league this season if play doesn’t resume, with players losing $1.2 billion in salaries.

According to a report from Jeff Goodman, Irving said during the call, “There’s only 20 guys actually getting paid, and I’m part of that. Let’s not pretend there’s not a tiered system purposely to divide all of us.”

Again, getting back to play is a priority, but these are not normal times. Players have taken a step forward in voicing their desire for social justice in recent years, led by some of the biggest stars, including Carmelo Anthony, who was on the call.

Some players, notably the Nets’ Garrett Temple, appeared on various outlets this past week making the point that the return of basketball would create a huge stage with a large audience that would provide an opportunity to raise the issues of police brutality and the death of George Floyd. But Irving reportedly said his preference would be to not travel to Orlando and continue to work in his community on resolving the issues.

Chris Paul reportedly was on the call Friday and has pushed for a way back for players and the league. Irving spoke his piece but said he would go along with whatever the majority wants.

“If it’s worth the risk, then let’s go and do it,” he said on the call, according to Yahoo. “But if you’re not with it, it’s OK, too. We’ve got options for both ways. Let’s just come to a middle ground as a family.”

Knicks youth movement

While the Knicks have been in a rebuild, trying to form a young nucleus on the court, team president Leon Rose made a move to add a scout who has been considered a phenom in the front office business.

Alex Kline, 26, was featured in a New York Times story when he was a 17-year-old high school student running a college basketball recruiting website. He had worked as a scout for the New Orleans Pelicans since 2016.

Coaching search to gear up

While it is not believed that the Knicks have asked permission to speak to any potential coaches yet, with teams readying to resume their season, the search should begin now in full. And the Knicks don’t need permission to speak with three of the top candidates — Tom Thibodeau, Kenny Atkinson and Mike Woodson, who are all unemployed, as well as Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, who have been serving as analysts for ABC.

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