Saying they’re fed up with systemic racism and police brutality against Black people, rival teams across the National Basketball Association boycotted their playoff games on Wednesday in a bold and united protest.
After news of another Black citizen being shot by police in America, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to boycott Game 5 of their first-round series against the Orlando Magic Wednesday afternoon. Other teams slated to play their Game 5s on Wednesday quickly followed suit, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers.
The NBA said those three games would be rescheduled.
The boycotts come a day after the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics said they might sit out Game 1 of their highly anticipated Eastern Conference semi-final series on Thursday night. Players from the two rival teams actually met Tuesday night to discuss it.
On Wednesday, the Bucks were acting to protest against the police shooting of a Black man near Milwaukee on Sunday. Jacob Blake was shot in the Wisconsin city of Kenosha, touching off days of demonstrations in the Midwestern U.S. city. He took seven bullets in his back, severing his spinal cord and shattering his vertebrae as his children sat in the back seat.
Lakers star LeBron James was among many NBA players to react to the boycott on social media, tweeting an expletive in all capital letters, followed by: “WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.”
Whether this is a one-game boycott or an end to the NBA playoffs remains in question, as does any further action the players hope to take. NBA TV reported that league players will hold a meeting in Orlando Wednesday night to decide on next steps, and that players planned to meet with their individual teams before attending that meeting.
Within a few hours, the Bucks’ move had a ripple effect. Three Women’s National Basketball Association games set for Wednesday night were postponed. In addition, a trio of Major League Baseball games were postponed – Milwaukee Brewers-Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres-Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Dodgers-San Francisco Giants. Five of six Major League Soccer games Wednesday were also postponed. In tennis, Naomi Osaka pulled out of the semi-finals at the Western and Southern Open.
When the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association agreed to create the bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida to restart the season, they agreed that they would keep a spotlight on issues of police brutality, social justice and racial inequality. Teams have made it a focus of interviews in the bubble and taken a knee during every pregame national anthem.
“We came here for a reason: using our platform and wanting to send a message and hopefully bring awareness and bring a change, but I don’t know. It just feels like we’re stuck,” said Raptor forward Pascal Siakam earlier Wednesday. “It feels like things are not changing. It feels like we’re not doing anything productive, basically.”
The Raptors have been among the outspoken leaders in the NBA’s social-justice initiatives. Several of them took to the streets protesting before they came to Florida. The Raps arrived at the NBA campus in buses printed with the words “Black Lives Matter” and have been wearing custom-designed apparel demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people killed by police.
Raptor coach Nick Nurse has implored Americans to vote. The team reacted passionately when newly released video appeared to vindicate club president Masai Ujiri as the innocent party in a confrontation with a sheriff’s deputy at last year’s NBA Finals.
Mr. Siakam could not share details of the players-only meeting between the Raptors and Celtics. He said he won’t watch video of Mr. Blake’s shooting. The Raptors Cameroonian star says he was “traumatized” the last time he saw video of a Black man suffering at the hands of police, Mr. Floyd with his neck pinned under the knee of a Minneapolis officer.
He was asked how he feels now about his decision to come play in the bubble.
“Things like that happening makes me question it. It makes me question my decision,” Mr. Siakam said. “It makes me question if this was the right decision, or are we really making a change, are we really doing something meaningful?”
Mr. Nurse said earlier Wednesday that he has heard a couple of his players say that they’re thinking about leaving the bubble to go home, but he doesn’t know if that’s a team-wide feeling. Some NBA players feel they could be doing more to create change back home in their communities, that they shouldn’t be playing basketball during a global reckoning with racism.
“Boycotting the game has come up for them as a way to try to demand a little more action. That’s really what they want. I think there’s enough attention and not quite enough action,” Mr. Nurse said. ”We need something to change, not just attention on the problem. We need a plan of action.”
Celtics star Jayson Tatum said that “being a Black man in America is more important than what I’m doing out there on a basketball court.”
“We’re in a bubble. We can’t leave. As much as we’d love to go back to our communities and stand with our people, we’re in this bubble and kind of isolated from everybody else, and I think that’s very frustrating,” Mr. Tatum said earlier Wednesday. “A lot of players have voiced that. I know some guys have talked about going home to be there instead of being isolated.”
The Bucks remained in their locker room in Orlando, behind closed doors for several hours after they chose not to take the floor for their 4 p.m. ET tipoff. It remains unclear when NBA basketball may return.