Words like “Black Lives Matter” and symbolic gestures — such as kneeling during the national anthem — was not enough for the Milwaukee Bucks, not after the players saw the video of the shooting of Jacob Blake in the back by a police officer in their own state, about 40 miles from where the Bucks play their games. The players felt people were discussing basketball, not discussing the issues that really mattered. They wanted to take action, not make another gesture.
The Bucks voted to boycott Game 5 of their playoff series against the Magic Wednesday.
Other teams quickly followed suit. The Rockets and Thunder players voted not play their Game 5 Wednesday, nor will the Lakers and Trail Blazers suit up. The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors, who tip off their second-round series on Thursday, have considered a boycott as well. The League made it official and postponed all the Wednesday games (they apparently did so before the Lakers and Blazers players voted).
It seemed fitting that being from Wisconsin, the Bucks were the first team to boycott. They had the backing of Milwaukee ownership.
“We fully support our players and the decision they made,” Bucks owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan said in a statement. “Although we did not know beforehand, we would have wholeheartedly agreed with them. The only way to bring about change is to shine a light on the racial injustices that are happening in front of us. Our players have done that and we will continue to stand alongside them and demand accountability and change.”
Several players have said to NBC Sports via text they are not going to leave the NBA’s bubble yet, they are not going to rush that decision, but they supported the Bucks decision not to play. They didn’t want people talking about basketball games right now.
The shooting of Jacob Blake — a Black man shot in the back at point-blank range, in front of his three children, by a White police officer in — shook players and coaches the NBA bubble. While protests erupted in Wisconsin and around the nation, inside the bubble players felt frustrated that they could do nothing but play a game that felt like a distraction from the bigger issues our country faces.
Players have been doing what they can to keep awareness up — kneeling during the anthem, wearing “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts during warmups, talking about justice for Breonna Taylor and others during interviews — but the shooting was a sign nothing had changed. The Bucks’ George Hill questioned why the teams even came to Orlando. That the national discussion was moving on and there had been no action.
No team was hit harder than the Bucks — so they took action.
Other players in the NBA restart bubble backed the move.
FUCK THIS MAN!!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT
— LeBron James (@KingJames) August 26, 2020
WE DEMAND CHANGE! SALUTE @Bucks ✊🏾🙏🏾🗣
— Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) August 26, 2020
WE DEMAND JUSTICE!!!
— Jamal Murray (@BeMore27) August 26, 2020
This shit bigger than basketball! Whoever don’t understand that is part of the problem.
— DeMar DeRozan (@DeMar_DeRozan) August 26, 2020
The boycott is an unprecedented move in NBA history. It will help put the issue back front-and-center in the national discussion. To stop these kinds of shootings in the future will take a lot more time and directed efforts to change people in power, something NBPA executive director Michelle Roberts told The Athletic’s David Aldridge.
How the league will adjust its schedule and move forward are unanswered questions at this point. To the players, how the NBA moves forward seems a trivial matter.
What matters is the message for social justice rings out.