By Tom Walker | Head of Sport
On the evening of Wednesday, August 26, the Milwaukee Bucks were scheduled to play the Orlando Magic in game five of their first-round playoff series.
However, with only 20 minutes before tip-off, the Bucks had not left their locker room, leaving the Magic on the floor to warm up by themselves. It was eventually revealed that the Bucks’ players had agreed among themselves to boycott the game in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake by American police that took place on Sunday, August 23.
Shortly after, the NBA released an official statement, noting that the following two NBA fixtures set to take place that day were postponed to a later date.
It was later announced that the Milwaukee Brewers, the city’s MLB team, had also boycotted their game against the Cincinnati Reds. Similarly, two other MLB fixtures did not go ahead in protest, along with the fixtures in the WNBA and MLS.
Well past the scheduled tip off time, the Bucks’ players left their locker room and stood behind guards George Hill and Sterling Brown, who preceded to read the team’s statement:
“Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin, we’ve seen the horrendous video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, and the additional shooting of protestors.” Brown said. “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.”
The Black Lives Matter movement has heavily been at the forefront of the NBA’s return.
Many of the league’s players were heavily involved in protesting after the killing of George Floyd back in May 2020, and were keen to pursue the fight against injustice and police brutality when returning to basketball.
Players were given the ultimate choice whether they wanted to play at all, with Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving being one of those who elected not to travel to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando in light of what is happening in many American states.
Upon returning, the players have been given the freedom to protest for the movement in a variety of ways – most notably, having a message of choice printed onto the back of their jerseys.
It was clear that the Black Lives Matter movement was very much the focus of everyone in the “bubble”, and none of this was truer than following the shooting of Jacob Blake.
In the aftermath of the incident in Wisconsin, there had been rumours about players opting not to play in their upcoming games. Toronto Raptors’ player Fred VanVleet sent a very clear message in a press conference on August 25, a day before the Bucks chose to boycott their game:
“Wouldn’t it be nice, in a perfect world, if we all said we’re not playing, and the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks steps up to the plate and puts pressure on the District Attorney’s office, State Attorneys, governors and politicians there to make real change and get some justice.”
It seemed that VanVleet’s words would come to fruition, as it was reported by ESPN’s NBA insider, Adrian Wojnarowski, that the Bucks were on a conference call with Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes before making their decision to not play their game against the Orlando Magic.
Later that evening, it was reported that a meeting between all the NBA players and staff had been called to decide on how they would proceed following the boycotted games, in addition to a meeting with the NBA’s special Board of Governors being held today.
The verdict was that the games scheduled for August 27 would be postponed, but the rest of the season would still go ahead as planned, despite reports that the LA Lakers and LA Clippers originally did not want to go ahead with it.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania, reported that the players wanted to find new and improved ways to make social justice statements, and that the players expected games to restart again this weekend.
The message has been clear from the NBA players competing in Orlando: Basketball is not the priority.
This was demonstrated to an historic extent on August 26, when the Bucks boycotted their fixture against the Magic.
We are now in a generation and social environment where sportsmen and women are more than just athletes, they are drivers for social and political change.
In a time where the world seems so divided, this group of men and women, all of whom are representing one organisation in the NBA, have come together in pursuit of trying to fix a glaring floor in our system.
Ever since the beginning of this issue, collectively, they have all done what they believed to be the right, and most effective thing to do to tackle racial injustice.
They have recognised and embraced the position they are in and have used that power to pursue the greater good, and long may it continue.