Zion Williamson, the New Orleans Pelicans’ star rookie, has promised to pay the salaries of all Smoothie King Center workers for 30 days while the NBA temporarily shuts down in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“This is a small way for me to express my support and appreciation for these wonderful people who have been so great to me and my teammates and hopefully we can all join together to relieve some of the stress and hardship caused by this national health crisis,” the 19-year-old player wrote on Instagram. “This is an incredibly resilient city full of some of the most resilient people, but sometimes providing a little extra assistance can make things a little easier for the community.”
Williamson’s pledge came two days after the NBA announced it would suspend the season to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Other professional sports, including hockey, soccer, baseball, and tennis, have announced similar actions.
The suspensions have come as health officials urge the public not to attend large gatherings to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, but it’s also raised questions and concerns about hourly employees who work at the large arenas that must now close.
Some NBA stars and team owners have since stepped up and vouched to cover, in full or in part, sport arena employees’ pay despite the shutdown. But Williamson’s pledge to cover all employee salaries for 30 days appeared to be the largest so far.
“These are the folks who make our games possible, creating the perfect environment for our fans and everyone involved in the organization,” he wrote on Instagram, noting that some employees, and the city, were still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “My mother has always set an example for me about being respectful for others and being grateful for what we have, and so today I am pledging to cover the salaries for all of those Smoothie King Center workers for the next 30 days.”
Currently one of the top stars in the league, Williamson is also extremely new to the NBA, and New Orleans, after becoming the top pick at the 2019 draft. It was not immediately clear what the pledge would cost for the young basketball star.
At 19 years old, he currently has a $44.2 million four-year contract with the team and has also signed lucrative endorsement deals.
Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers was the first player to step in when he promised $100,000 for the staff at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland.
“Pandemics are not just medical phenomenon,” he wrote on Instagram while encouraging others to do the same.
Other players seemed to take the call to heart.
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks pledged $100,000 for the salaries of Fiserv Forum staff, writing on Twitter: “We can get through this together!”
Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons donated $100,000 as well for the workers at Little Ceasars Arena.
Some NBA team owners have also stepped in to help workers affected by the shutdown.
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, promised to continue to pay workers during the shutdown.
“It was one of the first things that crossed my mind, in that, when we postponed games, those folks who do all the jobs you mentioned aren’t going to get paid,” he told Fox & Friends. “So we put together a program where we’re going to pay them as if those games took place.”
The Sacramento Kings, which are owned by Vivek Ranadivé, made a similar pledge, announcing on Twitter that all hourly employees would be paid for their scheduled shifts for the month of March.
The moves to pay arena workers were widely applauded by people on social media, although some suggested team owners — not players — should be stepping up to help support hourly employees.
Some people also pointed out that although many of the players earn salaries well into the millions, it was the team owners who had a better capacity to pay for the salaries of arena workers, including those who are billionaires.
It’s unclear if or when the NBA will lift the suspension, stating only that it would continue “until further notice.”