Ayyyeee… What’s Goodie Everyone. So I got some tea and it involves The NBA, and other sports leagues not having any games scheduled due to the protest and shooting of Jacob Blake.
The NBA’s games came to a screeching halt Wednesday when the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for a playoff game against the Orlando Magic to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The league announced the cancellation of all three games scheduled for Wednesday as a result, and a meeting of NBA players later Wednesday night cast doubt on whether the postseason would continue at all.
This unprecedented decision to postpone the games was quickly followed by a similar decision by the WNBA, which postponed three scheduled games across the state in Bradenton, and by teams and players in numerous other professional sports.
In Milwaukee, the Brewers announced they would not play their Major League Baseball game Wednesday night against the Cincinnati Reds. The Seattle Mariners game against the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ game against the San Francisco Giants also were postponed.
The cancellations underscored an emerging new reality in sports in which athletes are increasingly emboldened to express themselves on racial injustice and other social issues and leagues are finding ways to accommodate their views.
Tensions inside the bubble have boiled over in the past two days, with players and coaches outraged by the video of Blake’s shooting, but the Bucks’ decision not to play in Game 5 of their first round series caught league and team staffers by surprise.
Bucks guard George Hill was among multiple NBA players to question whether games should continue considering the ongoing social justice protests around the country, and members of the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics discussed sitting out the first game of their second round series scheduled for Thursday.
The Bucks went first. Shortly before the scheduled 4:10 p.m. Wednesday, the Magic took the court for warmups like usual. The Magic was never joined by the Bucks as arena staffers, ballboys and the referees milled around the court. As the game clock ticked down toward the customary pregame introduction period, the Magic left the court, returned to its locker room and eventually departed Adventhealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
The Bucks players, were dressed in their game uniforms as if they had arrived at the arena ready to play, remained inside the locker room with their coaches, General Manager Jon Horst and other team personnel for more than three hours before emerging to demand justice for Blake from Wisconsin politicians.
“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,” Hill said, reading a statement on behalf of the Bucks players. “We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment we are demanding the same from lawmakers and law enforcement. We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable. For this to occur, it’s imperative for the Wisconsin state legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform.”
The National Basketball Players Association held a meeting Wednesday night to discuss next steps, including whether to continue play or to cancel the balance of the postseason, which is scheduled to run through mid October. Coaches were invited to a portion of the meeting, which was held in a Disney World ballroom, before the players met among themselves.
NBA players have been outspoken on the issues of police brutality and racial injustice and have used their platform to express them from inside the bubble set up by the league at the Disney World resort in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. “Black Lives Matter” is painted in bold letters on the courts, and players are wearing words and phrases calling for social justice on the backs of their jerseys.
But the sentiment has pivoted to anger and despair since the Blake shooting Sunday night. Lakers forward LeBron James issued a powerful postgame statement Monday, saying, “Quite frankly, it’s just f—ed up in our community.”
James’s remarks were followed Tuesday by Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, who said, “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back.”
Before the Bucks’ players addressed a small group of media members, the organization’s ownership group issued a statement backing their decision not to play.
“We fully support our players and the decision they made,” Bucks owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan said. “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.”
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul (D) held a brief phone call with the Bucks on Wednesday to explain how the Wisconsin process works. Kaul’s agency is investigating Blake’s shooting, and he held a news briefing Wednesday to offer an update on his ongoing investigation and identify the Kenosha police officer involved.
“I commend the Bucks and now all NBA teams that suspended their games today for stepping up and participating in the dialogue about these issues and making their voices known,” Kaul said at the briefing.
Milwaukee’s other pro team quickly followed the Bucks’ lead as MLB’s Brewers, who like the Bucks play not far from Kenosha, decided they would not play against the Reds, who agreed to sit out.
“Given the pain in the communities of Wisconsin and beyond following the shooting of Jacob Blake, we respect the decisions of a number of players not to play tonight,” MLB said in an unattributed statement. “Major League Baseball remains united for change in our society and we will be allies in the fight to end racism and injustice.”
Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun told reporters the Bucks had “inspired” them.
“Our team and the Reds felt that with our community and our nation in such pain, tonight we wanted 100 percent of the focus to be on issues that are much more important than baseball,” Brewers pitcher Brent Suter, the team’s MLB Players Association representative, told reporters.
In San Diego, the Seattle Mariners, voted unanimously to sit out their game against the Padres, outfielder Dee Gordon said on Twitter.
Later, the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers elected not to play. Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, one of the game’s brightest stars, said he would not have played had the game taken place. In contrast to teams who played on while Black players sat out, the Dodgers decided if Betts chose not to play, they would follow him, pitcher Clayton Kershaw said.
“I’ll always remember this day and I’ll always remember this team having my back,” Betts said.
The Detroit Lions canceled practice on Tuesday, and players addressed reporters huddled around a whiteboard reading, “The World Can Not Go On.” On Wednesday night, Washington Football Team Coach Ron Rivera announced Thursday’s practice was postponed, and several NFL players expressed support for the Bucks on social media.
All but one of the six Major League Soccer matches were postponed after one or both teams decided not to play. The only one to commence as scheduled was Nashville SC at Orlando City.
Naomi Osaka, a two time Grand Slam tennis champion, announced that she would not play her semifinal match in the Western & Southern Open in New York, a U.S. Open tuneup, hours after winning her quarterfinal. A few hours after Osaka’s announcement, the sport’s organizers said play at the event would be paused Thursday and would resume Friday. Osaka’s announcement came with some heft; the 22 year old is the highest paid female athlete in the world, having brought in more than $37 million in prize money and endorsements last year, and she has been outspoken on social justice issues all summer.
“I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority White sport I consider that a step in the right direction,” Osaka wrote on Twitter. “Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach.”