When Giannis Antetokounmpo was a rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks, he shared a locker room with former Wizards forward Caron Butler. It was only for half a season — Butler was waived midway through the campaign — but the 14-year veteran did teach Antetokounmpo a lesson that’s stuck with him ever since.
On Wednesday, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks became the first team to boycott an NBA playoff game over racial injustice.
The previous weekend, a 29-year-old Black man named Jacob Blake was shot by police seven times in Kenosha, Wisconsin (just 45 minutes away from Milwaukee). Officers had been called to the scene in response to a domestic disturbance and engaged with Blake in a confrontation caught on video. Blake survived the incident but is reportedly paralyzed after a bullet severed part of his spinal cord.
After the Bucks decided not to play Wednesday, teams from across all of American professional sports followed suit. Both the NBA and NHL playoffs were put on hold while a slew of regular-season MLB and WNBA games were postponed.
Antetokounmpo was born and raised in Greece, moving to the U.S. in 2013 after Milwaukee drafted him 15th overall. Over the course of his career, the reigning league MVP has come to believe that race relations in the U.S. are much different than what he was used to overseas.
“I didn’t understand it then,” Antetokounmpo said. “I understand it now.”