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NBA’s Playoff Game Boycotts Sparks Domino Effect Across Major League Sports Amidst Jacob Blake Shooting
By Lauren A. Jones, Contributing Writer  
Published August 26, 2020

(Courtesy Photo)

The Milwaukee Bucks took a historic stand by electing not to play in the scheduled Wednesday Game 5 Playoff matchup versus the Orlando Magic as a boycott of the and to boycott because of the police shooting of Jacob S. Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who on Sunday was shot in the back seven times by a Kenosha, Wisconsin police officer, which left him paralyzed.

Within minutes of the Bucks’ announcement, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder players also planned to boycott Game 5 of their series. Given Chris Paul’s involvement in the ongoing conversations about social justice and his role as President of the NBA Players’ Association, it was to be expected that the Thunder would follow suit. Not 10 minutes later, it was confirmed that the Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers would also boycott forcing the NBA to officially postpone all of the playoff games scheduled to be played today.

The NBA released the following statement on the postponed games:

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The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association today announced that in light of the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to not take the floor today for Game 5 against the Orlando Magic, today’s three games – Bucks vs. Magic, Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers – have been postponed. Game 5 of each series will be rescheduled.

Bucks’ players utilized the time that they were supposed to be playing their playoff games, to have a conference call from inside the locker room with Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The entire Bucks team shared a united statement read by Sterling Brown and George Hill.

“When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort, and hold each other accountable,” read Hill. “In this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement.”

In 2018, Brown was a victim of police brutality in Wisconsin when police officers surrounded him at a Walgreens that escalated to an officer tasing him and placing a knee on his neck while another stood on his ankle. He wrote about his experience in an article on The Players’ Tribune and referenced his connection to the tragic death of George Floyd, who was killed during an arrest where a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. 

The Bucks’ collective protest on Wednesday took place a day after Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers used his postgame press conference to give an emotionally charged response to his thoughts on the shooting of Blake after the Clippers’ Game 5 win over the Mavericks.

“It’s just so sad. What stands out to me is just watching the Republican convention and their spewing this fear. All you hear is Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear,” he said. “We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that were denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung.”

 

As Rivers choked up, he continued to discuss what it means to be Black in America.

“It’s amazing why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back,” Rivers said. “It’s really so sad. Like, I should just be a coach. I’m so often reminded of my color. It’s just really sad. We got to do better, but we got to demand better.”

Toronto Raptors’ Pascal Siakam and Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, whose teams were scheduled to face off in Game 1 of the second round of the playoffs on Thursday, were both a part of a meeting that centered around discussions of whether to boycott that game.

These conversations have been ongoing as players inside and outside the NBA Bubble have been vocal about their support of the Black Lives Matter movement, demanding justice for Breonna Taylor and questioning whether the NBA should have resumed the season to begin with. The Net’s Kyrie Irving, the Vice President of the NBA Players’ Association, was one of the first and most outspoken members of the NBA to explicitly state his reluctance about the NBA restart. He expressed on a Zoom call with 80-plus NBA players back in June that he was hesitant about endorsing the NBA restart as it was felt it would be a distraction and would detract from the movement trying to affect change on the local and national issues of social justice. 

Once the Bucks led the charge on boycotting, many players immediately took to social media to share their thoughts including Lakers’ LeBron James who tweeted “F*** THIS MAN!!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.” John Wall of the Washington Wizards tweeted a photo that read, “We will not shut up and dribble.” with the caption “Just in case you forgot!!#BiggerThanBasketball.”

Former NBA player turned broadcaster Kenny “The Jet” Smith, who is one of the stars of the Emmy-award winning “Inside The NBA” on TNT, started off Wednesday’s broadcast by walking off the live set voicing his support of the players’ right to boycott.

With lots of uncertainty as to what the fate of the remainder of the NBA Playoff games will be, there have been reports that there are players considering leaving the bubble according to NBATV’s Rebecca Haarlow. There is also a contingency of players advocating to finish out the season citing the sacrifices the players and team personnel have made to finish out the season according to Yahoo’s Chris Haynes. All NBA players in The Bubble have been invited to a players’ only meeting at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday night to discuss how to proceed.

This most recent notorious police shooting has sparked protests across professional sports leagues including the WNBA, which announced just hours after the NBA did so that their three scheduled Wednesday games would also be postponed in Bradenton, Florida at IMG Academy. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert voiced her support of players’ decision not to play.

“Basketball has been a part of their platform and they can do both,” Engelbert told ESPN’s Holly Rowe. “We absolutely support them. We are running a very player-first agenda, so we said that from the beginning that’s why I was here to listen.”

The Washington Mystics, who were set to play the Atlanta Dream, entered the arena with shirts that spelled out Jacob Blake. Minnesota was going to face Los Angeles, and Connecticut was going to match up against Phoenix. The decision was announced moments before the expected 7 p.m. ET tip-off for the Mystics and Dream. The players instead, locked arms on the court and took a knee.

Three MLB matchups including the Milwaukee Brewers-Cincinnati Reds, Seattle Mariners-San Diego Padres, and the Los Angeles Dodgers-San Francisco Giants, all scheduled for Wednesday evening were postponed as players rallied to protest in solidarity.

Brewers’ pitcher Josh Hader spoke about the Bucks’ decision to boycott calling it “an enormous stand. It’s more than sports… This is a time where we need to, really, not stay quiet and show and empower our voices.”  On Monday, Brewers’ reliever Devin Williams drew the letters “BLM” behind the mound at Miller Park in the seventh inning.

Mariners’ second baseman Dee Gordon released a statement as well via Twitter.

“There are serious issues in this country. For me, and for many of my teammates, the injustices, violence, death, and systemic racism is deeply personal. This is impacting not only my community but very directly my family and friends. Our team voted unanimously not to play tonight,” he wrote. “Instead of watching us, we hope people will focus on the things more important than sports that are happening.”

The protests spanned beyond team sports as No. 1 ranked women’s tennis star Naomi Osaka stated she would not play in the semifinals match on Thursday against Elise Mertens in the Cincinnati Masters. The 22-year-old took to Twitter to write a heartfelt letter to her fans.

“Many of you are aware, I was scheduled to play my semifinals match tomorrow,” she wrote. “However, before I am an athlete, I am a black woman. And as a black woman, I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis.”

Major League Soccer postponed five of their matches, Miami-Atlanta, Dallas-Colorado, Real Salt Lake-LAFC, San Jose-Portland, LA Galaxy-Seattle. The first match was between the Atlanta United and Inter Miami as both teams took the field ahead of the 8 p.m. ET game time. At which point, the players decided not to play.

Fourteen games in total were postponed due to the boycotts across five sports on Wednesday. The repercussions of these acts have yet to be materialized in terms of when the games will be rescheduled and what impact it will have on their respective seasons. The impetus behind these protests are for players to utilize their platforms to pressure lawmakers and police officers to be held accountable for the shootings and killings of unarmed Black people in America.

Coincidentally and ironically, these historic boycotts come on the four-year anniversary of the beginning of Colin Kaepernick’s silent, peaceful protest of racial injustice during the national anthem of NFL games.

The late social activist John Lewis once said, “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” This is certainly good and necessary trouble.

Categories: Basketball | National | News | Sports
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