The Milwaukee Bucks led the protests yesterday, deciding to sit to last night’s playoff game against the Orlando Magic. It was a last-minute decision–the Magic were already warming up for the game–but after the Bucks made their decision, several other teams followed, leading to a suspension of the playoffs. That shutdown is likely to extend to today’s playoff games.
What happens next remains to be determined. The NBA Board of Governors will be meeting this morning to discuss matters, while players inside the bubble will have their own meeting, following meetings last night where a cancelation of the playoffs was discussed. ESPN is reporting the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers were in favor of canceling the playoffs, while other team leaders were hesitant in taking that action. Today’s meeting with players is expected to include briefings from player association officials detailing the financial consequences of shutting down the playoffs.
The move by the Bucks was not a total surprise; Kenosha is 40 miles south of Milwaukee, and there’s been an uneasy relationship between players and some members of the Milwaukee community after a much-publicized incident where Bucks player Sterling Brown was tased and subdued in an otherwise-empty Walgreen’s lot for parking incorrectly. The Blake family was reportedly consulted as the Bucks made the decision to skip last night’s game, as was Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes. Here’s the statement from the players:
“The past four months have shed a light on the ongoing racial injustices facing our African American communities. Citizens around the country have used their voices and platforms to speak out against these wrongdoings.
“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. Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.
“When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable. We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement.
“We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable. For this to occur, it is imperative for the Wisconsin State Legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform. We encourage all citizens to educate themselves, take peaceful and responsible action, and remember to vote on Nov. 3.”
The challenge for both the NBA and the players: How to address these concerns in a practical matter. The NBA has adjusted its messaging in the playoffs to address the Black Lives Matter movement, overhauling jerseys, adding messaging to courts and announcing investments in the movement. Sitting out a game or even canceling the playoffs will be a recognition of priorities, but if that happens there needs to be some sort of action plan that continues far outside the NBA bubble.