N.B.A. players have been speaking out against racism and police brutality, but athletes have wondered whether that would be enough.
Aug. 26, 2020
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Milwaukee Bucks responded to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Wisconsin, by refusing to take the court Wednesday afternoon for their N.B.A. playoff game against the Orlando Magic.
An hour later, the N.B.A. postponed two other playoff games scheduled for Wednesday night, thrusting its ambitious restart at Walt Disney World during the coronavirus pandemic into sudden chaos and doubt. The postponed games were first-round playoff matchups pitting the Houston Rockets against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Los Angeles Lakers against the Portland Trail Blazers. All three games will be rescheduled.
Players from the N.B.A. and the W.N.B.A. have long been at the forefront of protests against racism and police brutality but especially this year, after the police killings of George Floyd, a Black man in Minnesota, and Breonna Taylor, a Black woman in Kentucky.
Still, the boycott was an extraordinary escalation in the athletes’ demonstrations, a move that had virtually no precedent in the league’s history.
On Sunday, the police in Kenosha, Wis., shot Blake, 29, in the back several times as he tried to get into his vehicle.
In the days since, numerous N.B.A. players have openly debated the wisdom of continuing to play, questioning whether the platform provided by the league’s return was amplifying their message — or, rather, taking attention from the broader social justice movement.
Prime among those players was Milwaukee’s George Hill, who on Monday expressed frustration about playing amid the social upheaval across the country.
“We shouldn’t have even come to this damn place to be honest,” Hill said. “I think coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are.”
A meeting to discuss next steps for players on the 13 teams still at Disney World was scheduled for Wednesday night, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.
“We weren’t given advance notice about the decision, but we are happy to stand in solidarity with Milwaukee, Jacob and the entire N.B.A. community,” Orlando’s Michael Carter-Williams said. “Change is coming.”
Players from the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors were already deep in discussions about boycotting the teams’ playoff game Thursday. A league spokesman, when asked about Thursday’s three scheduled games, said no determination had yet been made about the upcoming schedule.
The N.B.A. has been operating out of Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., since July 7, when 22 of the league’s 30 teams began residing in the league’s so-called bubble, designed to prevent the infiltration of the coronavirus. The league had suspended its season March 11 because of the pandemic.
Orlando’s players were already on the floor warming up for Wednesday’s scheduled 4 p.m. tipoff, but Bucks players refused to join them for Game 5 of the teams’ first-round playoff series. Orlando’s players ultimately decided to leave the floor with just under four minutes before the game. The game’s three referees soon followed suit.
While Bucks players remained in their locker room for more than two hours after the game was scheduled to begin, Magic players began filing onto their team bus at around 4:40 p.m.
Players from both teams largely refused interview requests.
“We demand change,” Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said on Twitter, writing in all caps. “Sick of it.”
With players speaking out widely, the league decided not to enforce its nearly 40-year-old rule that mandates standing for the national anthem when players from the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans knelt for the playing of the anthem before the league’s first official game July 30. Both teams kneeling together for the anthem has been a feature of every game since, with only a few players and staff members choosing to stand. Numerous players and coaches have also used interview sessions with the media to speak out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Alex Lasry, a vice president with the Bucks and the son of the team’s co-owner Marc Lasry, said on Twitter: “Some things are bigger than basketball. The stand taken today by the players and org shows that we’re fed up. Enough is enough. Change needs to happen. I’m incredibly proud of our guys and we stand 100% behind our players ready to assist and bring about real change.”
The Magic, in a statement, said: “Today we stand United with the N.B.A. office, the National Basketball Players Association, the Milwaukee Bucks and the rest of the league condemning bigotry, racial injustice and the unwarranted use of violence by police against people of color.”