Boycott: NBA playoff games called off amid player protest

Milwaukee Bucks signage is displayed on screens beside an empty court before the scheduled start of an NBA basketball first round playoff game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)

Milwaukee Bucks signage is displayed on screens beside an empty court before the scheduled start of an NBA basketball first round playoff game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)

Making their strongest statement yet in the fight against racial injustice, players from six NBA teams decided not to play postseason games on Wednesday in a boycott that quickly reverberated across other professional leagues.

Also called off: Some games in Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the three WNBA contests, as players across four leagues decided the best way to use their platform and demand change was to literally step off the playing surface.

Players made the extraordinary decisions to protest the shooting by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Sunday of Jacob Blake, a Black man, apparently in the back while three of his children looked on.

Kenosha is about 40 miles south of Milwaukee. That city’s NBA team, the Bucks, started the boycotts Wednesday by refusing to emerge from their locker room to play a playoff game against the Orlando Magic.

“There has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball,” said Bucks guard Sterling Brown, who joined teammate George Hill in reading a statement on the team’s behalf. Brown has a federal lawsuit pending against the city of Milwaukee alleging he was targeted because he was Black and that his civil rights were violated in January 2018 when officers used a stun gun on him after a parking violation.

Other games that were not played: NBA playoff games between Oklahoma City and Houston, and the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland; three WNBA games; MLB games between Milwaukee and Cincinnati and Seattle and San Diego; and five MLS matches. Two members of the St. Louis Cardinals sat out their team’s game with the Kansas City Royals as well.

The NBA’s board of governors have called a meeting on Thursday to discuss the new developments, said a person with knowledge of the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the meeting plan was not revealed publicly.

“The baseless shootings of Jacob Blake and other black men and women by law enforcement underscores the need for action,” the NBA Coaches Association said in a statement. “Not after the playoffs, not in the future, but now.”

The statement by the Bucks also called for state lawmakers to reconvene and take immediate action “to address issues of police accountability, brutality, and criminal justice reform.”

“I couldn’t agree more. Thank you, Bucks,” Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers tweeted.

The NBA did not say when Wednesday’s games would be played or if Thursday’s schedule of three more games involving six other teams would be affected. NBA players and coaches were meeting Wednesday night to determine next steps, presumably including whether the season should continue.

“We fully support our players and the decision they made,” Bucks owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan said in a joint statement. “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.”

Added Jeanie Buss, the Governor of the Lakers, in a tweet: “I stand behind our players, today and always. After more than 400 years of cruelty, racism and injustice, we all need to work together to say enough is enough.”

Several NBA players, including the Lakers’ LeBron James, tweeted out messages demanding change. Some teams including Boston, Orlando and Utah released messages supporting the players.

“We weren’t given advanced notice about the decision but we are happy to stand in solidarity with Milwaukee, Jacob, and the entire NBA community,” Orlando guard Michael Carter-Williams said. “Change is coming.”

Magic players and referees were on the basketball court for the game but Milwaukee never took the floor. The National Basketball Referees Association said it “stands in solidarity” with the players, and teams including Orlando and Boston released statements or tweets of support.

“Players have, once again, made it clear — they will not be silent on this issue,” National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts said.

Demanding societal change and ending racial injustice has been a major part of the NBA’s restart at Walt Disney World. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” is painted on the arena courts, players are wearing messages urging change on their jerseys and coaches are donning pins demanding racial justice as well.

Many players wrestled for weeks about whether it was even right to play, fearing that a return to games would take attention off the deaths of, among others, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in recent months.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was fatally shot when police officers burst into her Louisville, Kentucky apartment using a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation on March 13. The warrant was in connection with a suspect who did not live there and no drugs were found. Then on May 25, Floyd died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into the Black man’s neck for nearly eight minutes — all captured on a cell phone video.

Hill said after Blake’s shooting that he felt players shouldn’t have come to Disney.

“We’re the ones getting killed,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who is Black, said in an emotional speech Tuesday night. “We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that we’re denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. And all you do is keep hearing about fear. It’s amazing why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back. And it’s just, it’s really so sad.”

Players from Boston and Toronto met Tuesday to discuss boycotting Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, which had been scheduled for Thursday. NBPA officers were part of those meetings, and Miami forward Andre Iguodala — one of those officers— said around 2:15 p.m. that he did not believe a boycott plan had been finalized.

Things apparently moved quickly: Less than two hours later, the Bucks wouldn’t take the floor.

“When you talk about boycotting a game, everyone’s antenna goes up,” Iguodala said. “It’s sad you have to make threats like that — I wouldn’t say threats — but you have to be willing to sacrifice corporate money for people to realize there’s a big problem out there.”

Professional sports has seen both strikes and lockouts in the past, almost always over salary disputes. But this wouldn’t seem to classify as a strike, even though it was initiated by players, since their dispute is not with the NBA. Boycott, meanwhile, is defined as the act of refusing to engage in an action, usually to express disapproval with some condition.

Get the WHYY app!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal