NBA players strike, remove a distraction and highlight racism and police brutality

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Update: The NBA season is "up in the air" after Clippers and Lakers players took a stance Wednesday night against concluding the playoffs, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski (see story).

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.

Brown and Milwaukee guard George Hill read a statement from the team calling on the Wisconsin state legislature to take "meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform."

Bucks owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan released a statement in support of their players.

The Thunder-Rockets and Blazers-Lakers games scheduled for Wednesday were later postponed, as well.

WNBA players, who have dedicated their season to social justice efforts, also decided not to play on Wednesday night.

Three MLB games — Brewers-Reds, Padres-Mariners and Giants-Dodgers — were postponed Wednesday night as players decided to sit out. The Phillies and Nationals played in the nation's capital. MLS players chose not to play five scheduled matches on Wednesday. 

Across the NBA, 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.

LeBron James has been among the players to demand change on social media. 

The Sixers tweeted a message of solidarity.

“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.”

Those protests 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.