The Milwaukee Bucks held a walk-out on Aug. 26 refusing to play against the Orlando Magic, the first in NBA history after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man. The NBA concluded that the rest of the scheduled games that Wednesday night was to be canceled as well.
This boycott inspired many other sports teams to follow in their footsteps. Numerous athletes refused to participate in any scheduled games that Wednesday night, calling off games from the MLB, WNBA, and Major League Soccer.
Blake, an unarmed Black man, was shot eight times in the back by police officers as he tried to get into his car. Police officers were responding to a domestic call when they arrived on the scene. Blake has been left paralyzed following the incident, Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr., told the Chicago Sun-Times. Blake is currently out of the hospital, but is “in a spinal injury rehabilitation center in Chicago,” according to attorney Patrick Cafferty.
The stand taken by the Bucks echoed the frustration that many people, including players and coaches, across the country, feel with the lack of change. Previously, players took to kneeling during the National Anthem and wearing shirts promoting social justice messages. However, with little effect, the Bucks decided a more drastic approach was needed.
This time around, professional players took their most decisive stance against police brutality in wake of the shooting of Blake in Kenosha, WI. The Buck’s historic commitment of refusing to play Wednesday’s game sent shock waves throughout the sports world. This left many professional leagues scrambling to quickly postpone and reschedule games, according to USA Today.
The Bucks stayed in the locker room hours after the tip-off was supposed to start. The same night, the Bucks players offered a statement, “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.”
“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. We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement,” the statement continued.
The WNBA quickly followed suit, postponing their scheduled games as well. Both the NBA and WNBA have been very outspoken and at the frontline of protests against racism and police brutality. Especially within recent months, with the re-energized BLM movement after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
WNBA players dedicated their season to Breonna Taylor, and the Say Her Name Campaign- an effort to raise awareness for the persecution of Black female victims of police brutality. The players also wore Breonna Taylor’s name on their jerseys during opening weekend.
Before the boycott, both the NBA and WNBA league had taken an extended break because of the COVID pandemic. Many players questioned if continuing the season was necessary- amid our current racial climate.
Kyrie Irving, a point guard for the Brooklyn Nets, has been very vocal about systemic racism and police brutality throughout the season. He held a conference call with other NBA players, to figure out how to progress with the rest of the season, saying that “I’m willing to give up everything I have” for social reform, according to Complex.
Irving has been one of the most vocal players following George Floyd’s death. Months before the NBA was scheduled to resume, Irving worried that playing in Orlando would take away from the need to work on social justice reform. “I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving reportedly said during the conference call. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bulls–t. Something smells a little fishy.”
While other players backed Irving, LeBron James supported the NBA’s decision to continue the rest of the season. However, that all changed in the wake of Blake’s shooting. James led the Lakers, and their rival, the Los Angeles Clippers, in voting to cancel the rest of the season. Leaving soon after the vote, with the Lakers and Clippers following him out, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
James, a small forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, has often used his platform to openly speak out against systemic racism and social justice, especially within the past couple of months amid ongoing nationwide protests. James showed his support of Buck’s decision to boycott, tweeting “Change doesn’t happen with just talk!! It happens with action and needs to happen NOW!”.
Following the Bucks’ decision to boycott, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association released a joint statement on Aug. 28, announcing that the playoffs would resume the following day. The statement also announced that both the league and its players will work together on several pledges to encourage voting access, fight against social injustice and racial inequality, and advocate for police reform, per ESPN.
“These commitments follow months of close collaboration around designing a safe and healthy environment to restart the NBA season, providing a platform to promote social justice, as well as creating an NBA Foundation focused on economic empowerment in the Black community,” Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, said in the statement.
The committee also announced that team owners will work with local officials to turn the league’s franchise owned arena properties into voting locations for the 2020 general election. Allowing citizens to vote in person during the COVID pandemic. There is also an effort to use those locations in other ways, as well as sites to register voters and receive ballots, reported by ESPN.