The pre-approved jersey phrases and brief availabilities with the media and Black Lives Matter shirts understandably seemed to feel hollow or inconsequential to many NBA players relative to what was happening outside of their bubble.
Wednesday, players took the powerful step of choosing to strike, and tonight’s games have been postponed. A meeting is scheduled for 8 p.m. to discuss next steps, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe.
Every player holds their own opinions and priorities, of course, but the overriding message was expressed by Glenn Robinson III on July 3 as the Sixers thought about returning to basketball in the midst of nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
“We’ve heard a lot of players talk and whether you agree or not, I think it’s very important we don’t forget about everything that’s going on with the restart of basketball,” he said.
The Milwaukee Bucks decided to sit out Game 5 of their first-round playoff series vs. the Magic. Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot in the back seven times by police Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and is paralyzed from the waist down. Wojnarowski reported the Bucks were on a conference call in the locker room with Wisconsin attorney general Josh Kaul and lieutenant governor Mandela Barnes.
Police officers kneeled on Bucks guard Sterling Brown’s neck in a 2018 incident in Milwaukee.
“We have to take advantage of the momentum and demand respect,” Brown wrote in a piece published in The Players’ Tribune.
Bucks owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan released a statement in support of their players.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) August 26, 2020
The Thunder-Rockets and Blazers-Lakers games scheduled for Wednesday were later postponed, as well.
Across the league, players and coaches have expressed frustration, fatigue and heartbreak. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, who has experienced bigotry throughout his life, spoke about the state of the country Tuesday night after his team’s Game 5 win over the Mavericks.
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) August 26, 2020
LeBron James has been among the players to demand change on social media.
“A lot of anger, disappointment,” Sixers forward Mike Scott said on July 6. “Just questioning a lot of stuff like, ‘What’s going on in this world? How can people be so evil?’ Just a lot of anger, man. Mostly just anger. Using my platform … I’m more reserved, laid back, and I’m more of let’s just do it instead of just talking about it. Just go out there and just do it. … There was a lot of anger and (I’m) still angry.”
During the Sixers’ stay at Disney World, Scott and Tobias Harris called for Kentucky attorney general Daniel Cameron to arrest the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency room technician, on March 13 in Louisville. That hasn’t happened yet.
Prior to games during the league’s restart, teams have kneeled during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality. The NBA and NBPA announced earlier this month the creation of the NBA Foundation, pledging $300 million to “create greater economic empowerment in the Black community.” Ben Simmons on Tuesday launched the “Do More” Project to challenge racism in Australia.
Despite all of the above efforts to address a multitude of problems, the games have been captivating and, inevitably, a major story. Some players had concerns about resuming the season during the coronavirus pandemic, believing basketball would be a distraction from more important matters. Their worries were, without a doubt, valid.
Josh Richardson on July 30 said he was one of the players who thought about not traveling to Orlando. He wore “Say Their Names” on the back of his jersey.
“I’m just trying to be a vessel for this movement that’s finally happening,” he said. “You can go down the list – Breonna Taylor is at the forefront, George Floyd, Michael Brown. On a smaller scale, where I’m from, a kid named Isaiah Lewis was killed by police, unarmed. There’s too many instances of it happening. I’m just trying to keep raising awareness, keep being a vessel for what’s happening. Hopefully, people keep picking up on the message.”
The Sixers tweeted out a message of solidarity.
We stand in support of those using their platform for change.#BlackLivesMatter
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) August 26, 2020
Those boycotts ensure that the entertainment of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s dunks and Chris Paul’s pick-and-roll mastery do not overshadow or obstruct the humanity of the people wearing the jerseys.
The Brewers-Reds game in Milwaukee was also canceled Wednesday night. More teams could follow suit. The Phillies-Nationals game began on time Wednesday in the nation’s capital.
Following the cancellation of the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds game tonight, more teams are discussing the possibility of not playing, sources tell ESPN. Among those currently discussing it: the Seattle Mariners, who have the most Black players of any team in MLB.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) August 26, 2020
This story will be updated with further developments.
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