I didn’t know how to feel. Excitement? Confusion? Anger, even?

It was before the end of May when the possibility of the NBA truly resuming its 2019-2020 season started to pick up steam. I was unsure of how to take the news. I had an initial take, however. I thought the effort at resuming the league would have been tone-deaf. I stand by what I said.

At that point, the situation in the world was not getting better. The COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t exactly gotten better. Political unrest had been reported in various regions across the globe. In the Philippines alone, the country has had to battle against fake news, lack of mass testing, and a government that’s created more division rather than unity. The world’s not in great shape.

You could even go as far as to say that, this was the first time many of us – living in comfortable homes with money for luxuries – have had to truly prioritize our needs over our wants. The division between leisure and necessity couldn’t be clearer than it is today. We live in a time when it’s already an achievement to even be breathing in one piece. We hold on today to survive rather than to thrive and enjoy.

We’ve often treated basketball as a luxury. Technically, we could survive if basketball did not exist. Need to exercise? Do home workouts; using your body weight can do wonders for your fitness. Need entertainment? Do you really need to prioritize entertainment during a pandemic?

That’s why in my tweet above, I described talk about resuming the NBA as tone-deaf. Why resume something that won’t have any substantial effect on how we breathe? Why risk the lives of these players by making them play a contact sport during a pandemic? Because of history? Legacies? The GOAT debate?

Despite these apprehensions, the message was clear from the NBA’s best players; we want to play. It was a straight to the point answer to an issue that had so many layers to it. I didn’t understand what bringing the NBA back would mean for all of us in the grander scheme of things. I didn’t know how to feel. That was until June 3, 2020, when Woj broke the internet with this tweet:

I suddenly knew how to feel about the NBA’s return:

With one tweet, for most of us, our sorrow transformed into excitement. Basketball groups suddenly awakened for discussions about what would happen with the proposed format, while idiots danced in their rooms like nobody was watching (was that idiot me? You’ll never know, nobody was watching inside my room). The NBA was back and so were its fans. Was it time to talk about history? Legacies? The GOAT debate?

Funny enough, aside from talks about the play-in tournament for the 8th seed and the inclusion of Phoenix and Washington in the bubble (shoutout to Toby Amigo, Karl Batungbacal, and Colin Salao), there hasn’t been much talk about the implications of this setup. Instead, what we’ve seen are athletes who have become even more empowered to speak up about the social climate we’re in today.

Damian Lillard is dropping daggers while protesting with the city of Portland. Jaylen Brown is showing all-around brilliance, this time by driving to Atlanta, Georgia, to unite with their community. “Oh, blocked by James!” continues to reverberate, except he blocked Laura Ingraham of FOX News, not Andre Igoudala. The talk about the NBA has been revived, except this time, people are discussing what they’re doing on the streets, rather than on the court.

It’s this phenomenon that gives us a better understanding of what the NBA’s return truly means. This won’t benefit the legacies of these players. There’s definitely going to be asterisks flying around when talking about the potential champion of the 2019-2020 season. This is a unique situation as it is; something the lockout-shortened seasons didn’t even face.

There’s a lot of questions that analysts like Stephen A. Smith, Paul Pierce, Richard Jefferson, and Rachel Nichols are trying to break down. But while they’re trying to make sense of all the madness that could happen in the basketball court, accompanying them talk is a clear breath of fresh air and relief.

The NBA is back. Basketball is back. The biggest winners of this return are its respective communities in general. At this point, it feels like that’s all that should truly matter in the grander scheme of things.

Basketball isn’t just a luxury. It isn’t just entertainment. It’s a platform for these influential athletes to bring people together around common values, beliefs, and movements.

Justice for George Floyd.

I Can’t Breathe.

Here in the Philippines, Junk Terror Bill.

But most importantly, basketball is a powerful tool that can elicit inspiration out of its audience. In a time as difficult as this, the sport can turn the sorrow of its people into joy and excitement.

Now I know how I feel about the NBA’s return. More than the initial feeling of excitement, I feel hopeful. In a time like this, that’s really the least you can ask for. Michael Jordan said so himself during The Last Dance, “It started with hope.”

A career that transcended the game. A dynasty that went global. Now, potentially, movements amongst people in different countries to overthrow systems that have oppressed minorities for too long.

Hope is incredibly powerful.  “All you need (is) one match to start that whole fire.” Maybe this is the match which gets things started for all of us as a people to get moving.