A year already overflowing with breaking points got yet another this week when 29-year-old Jacob Blake was shot seven times from behind by a Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Milwaukee Bucks shocked the world by opting not to play in their scheduled first-round playoff game against the Orlando Magic in protest of ongoing racial injustice.
By Wednesday evening, the remainder of the NBA season was teetering on the brink.
Multiple news outlets reported that an emergency meeting of the National Basketball Players Association membership that night featured the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers — two of the presumptive championship favorites — voting to terminate the season, while the other teams remaining in the bubble spoke in favor of concluding the postseason, of finishing what they started after working to get the league back on track amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the discussion on how to proceed will spill into Thursday — when the league’s Board of Governors is slated to convene — but that the three playoff games on the schedule (including Game 6 between the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets) are unlikely to be played.
“Everyone is still too emotional,” Wojnarowski quoted a “high-ranking source” as saying. “There needs to be more time to come together on this.”
The Jazz, who have had several players and coaches speak out in horror about the Blake situation and speak up in favor of sitting out games, issued a statement in the interim affirming their commitment to racial justice.
“We support and join with the National Basketball Association, its teams, the players and the Utah Jazz in condemning social injustice and violence against Black people. Our family and organization remain fully committed to and focused on building a country that is equitable, just and safe,” said the statement issued on behalf of the organization and the owning Miller family. “We also echo Jacob Blake’s mother’s plea to ‘use our hearts, our love and our intelligence to work together to show the rest of the world how humans are supposed to treat each other.’”
The day began with the possibility of the Bucks — the team with the best record in the NBA — looking at the possibility of eliminating the Orlando Magic. Instead, on the four-year anniversary of Colin Kaepernick sitting on the San Francisco 49ers’ bench during the national anthem in protest of racial and social injustice, the Bucks sparked another momentous day in the world of sports by opting not to take the court at all.
The Magic, in turn, announced their solidarity with Milwaukee’s players by declining to accept a victory by forfeit. The Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers, upon getting word of the Bucks’ intentions, also subsequently declined to play their scheduled games.
Reports of the Wednesday evening meeting suggest that Bucks guard George Hill, disturbed by Blake’s shooting and still uneasy about the lack of progress made on the racial justice front nationwide, broached the idea of skipping the game to his teammates in the locker room a short time ahead of tipoff. His teammates apparently quickly got on board with the idea of striking to make a definitive point.
The Bucks remained in the locker room for hours, apparently having secured a phone call with Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes to discuss their concerns with the Blake situation and in general.
“They just wanted to know what they could do,” Barnes told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “They wanted to do something tangible that they could do in the short term and the long term. They wanted the walkout to be Step 1.”
Later, as the Bucks finally emerged and stood in solidarity, Hill and fellow guard Sterling Brown — himself a high-profile victim of police brutality — took turns reading a statement crafted by the players, which stated, in part, “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.”
The players’ strike for racial justice subsequently spread to include scheduled games in the WNBA, Major League Baseball, and Major League Soccer — including the slated game between Real Salt Lake and LAFC at Rio Tinto Stadium.