The Milwaukee Bucks could have clinched a first-round playoff win Wednesday if they had defeated the Orlando Magic. However, as tip-off neared and no Bucks players could be found practicing on the court, it was clear they were getting ready to make history by boycotting the game.
The NBA and NBPA later announced that all three remaining playoff games that were scheduled for Wednesday night were postponed in solidarity, including a game between the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma Thunder. Russell Westbrook of the Rockets and Thunder player and NBPA President Chris Paul met before the game was scheduled to support the boycott. The ripple effect from the Bucks is likely going to be remembered as a seminal moment for athletes engaging in direct action.
The Bucks decided to forego playing to demand action after police in Kenosha, Wisconsin (located forty miles from Milwaukee) nearly killed Jacob Blake after shooting him in the back seven times in front of three of his children. After the footage of the shooting was released, several NBA players and coaches offered emotional pleas to stop police violence.
After the Clippers-Mavericks game Tuesday, Clippers coach Doc Rivers spoke movingly to reporters about the need for justice. “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.” Rivers mentioned that his own father was a police officer. “We’re not trying to defund [the police] and take all their money away. We’re trying to get them to protect us, just like they protect everybody else.”
Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz also spoke to reporters about the video. “This is bigger than the game,” Mitchell said. He had previously tweeted about what happened to Blake. “WE DEMAND JUSTICE! ITS CRAZY I DONT HAVE ANY WORDS BUT WTF MAN! THIS IS WHY WE DON’T FEEL SAFE!!!!” After the Bucks announced their boycott, he voiced solidarity via Twitter as well.
Several current and former players, including from the Milwaukee Bucks, have been victims of police brutality. In the Players Tribune, Bucks player Sterling Brown wrote about having a cop kneel on his neck and stand on his ankle, then tase him after he illegally parked his car in a handicapped spot outside a Walgreens. In his essay, Brown also wrote about rejecting a $400,000 settlement offer from the city of Milwaukee. He felt it was important not to say silent.
Throughout the NBA bubble season, many NBA players and coaches have been outspoken about supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and taking action against social injustice. LeBron James, along with other athletes, started an organization “More Than A Vote,” to protect the voting rights for African Americans. When the NBA resumed its season, every single player in the first two games kneeled during the anthem and wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts.
In Texas, progressives cheered on the NBA boycott. The Texas Democratic Party tweeted their support and thanks to the Houston Rockets. “This is bigger than basketball. This is life [and] death.” Julián Castro, who talked about police reform extensively when he ran for president, also applauded the NBA players. “Progress is often uncomfortable. Hearts and minds don’t change easily. It takes bold leaders putting their reputations on the line to get things done,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, told KDFW that he would support the Mavericks joining the boycott. “Of course I would support my team. A lot of things in life are more important than basketball. And I’ll support action [NBA] players put in place to try to effect change.”
As news of the NBA strike continued to reverberate last night, MLB team the Milwaukee Brewers announced they would also not be playing. They were set to play the Cincinnati Reds who agreed to a no-forfeit in solidarity. Two other MLB games were also postponed.
In the WNBA, the boycotts continued. Players from the Washington Mystics had arrived to the arena in shirts that spelled out “Jacob Blake” with seven bullet holes in the back. Several WNBA players have been supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement, which is notable given the co-owner of the Atlanta Dream is Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who has criticized their actions.
What happens next is unclear. Allegedly, the L.A. Clippers and Lakers voted to strike for the rest of the playoffs, with LeBron James taking an active role in wanting to end the season. Sports has long been a platform for activism, and this strike is a gigantic statement about the need for change.
Photo: Kim Klement – Pool/Getty Images