On an extraordinary day for the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted Game 5 of their playoff series against the Orlando Magic in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, leading the NBA to reschedule all other Wednesday night playoff games.
Milwaukee’s baseball team, the Brewers, also confirmed they would not play their game scheduled for Wednesday evening.
Blake was shot in the back by police, apparently in front of his children, on Sunday, and his family say he is now paralyzed from the waist down. The shooting occurred in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which is 40 miles from Milwaukee.
The Bucks had been due to come on court for 4pm ET on Wednesday afternoon, but did not emerge from the locker room. They released a statement on Wednesday afternoon calling for action and justice for Jacob Blake.
“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,” they said. “In this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement.”
The Bucks demanded the Wisconsin state legislature reconvene after months of inaction to “take up meaningful measures” on police brutality and criminal justice reform.
“We encourage all citizens to educate themselves, take peaceful and responsible action, and remember to vote on Nov. 3,” they concluded.
Two NBA playoff games – between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets; and the Portland Trail Blazers and the Los Angeles Lakers – were also postponed on Wednesday.
The Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres baseball game as well as a San Francisco Giants-Los Angeles Dodgers game were also canceled Wednesday night.
Gabe Kapler, manager of the San Francisco Giants, put out a strong statement in support of the team’s strike.
“I don’t think it should require athletes needing to boycott playoffs games to remind us that Black Lives Matter, and that police brutality is unacceptable, and that systemic racism to be eliminated,” he said.
The WNBA also postponed its three games on Wednesday, just hours after the NBA.
“We know it’s a very emotional time for our players. They are struggling with what’s been happening in this country for months, if not years,” said Cathy Engelbert, WNBA commissioner, who added that the league supports its players’ decision to not play on Wednesday night.
There has been growing anger about racial injustice among NBA players, 80% of whom are black, as the season has progressed. On Monday, Hill said the season should not have resumed in the first place.
“We shouldn’t have even came to this damn place [Orlando, where the playoffs are taking place], to be honest,” he said. “I think coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are. But we’re here, so it is what it is. We can’t do anything from right here, but I think definitely, when it’s all settled, some things have to be done.
“I think this world has to change. I think our police department has to change. Us as society has to change. And, right now we’re not seeing any of that. Lives are being taken, as we speak, day in and day out, and there’s no consequence or accountability for it, and that’s what has to change.”
Shortly after the postponements were confirmed, the NBA’s biggest star, LeBron James, tweeted: “FUCK THIS MAN!!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.”
The Bucks senior vice-president, Alex Lasry, said the team supported their players’ stance. “I’m incredibly proud of our guys and we stand 100% behind our players ready to assist and bring about real change,” he wrote on Twitter.
Members of the Bucks have spoken about problems of racism and police brutality in the Milwaukee area before. Peter Feigin, the Bucks’ president, offended some fans in 2016 when he said Milwaukee was “the most segregated and racist place” he had known. Meanwhile, in an interview with the Guardian last year, the former Bucks player Malcolm Brogdon spoke about similar problems.
“Before I came to Milwaukee I’d heard the city was the most segregated in the country,” he said. “I’d heard it was racist. When I got here it was extremely segregated. I’ve never lived in a city this segregated. Milwaukee’s very behind in terms of being progressive. There are things that need to change rapidly.”
There have been protests in Kenosha since the shooting, and police arrested Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, after two people were shot dead at a demonstration in the town on Tuesday night.
Wednesday’s boycott recalls a similarly troubled time in US history following the brutal beating of Rodney King, a black man, by white police officers in 1991. The Chicago Bulls player Craig Hodges wanted his team, along with their opponents the Lakers, to boycott the opening game of the NBA finals so that: “we would stand in solidarity with the black community while calling out racism and economic inequality in the NBA, where there were no black owners and almost no black coaches despite the fact that 75% of the players in the league were African American”.
The Bulls legend Michael Jordan told Hodges he was “crazy” while the Lakers star Magic Johnson said: “That’s too extreme, man.”
In 2017, Hodges told the Guardian he regretted his failure to persuade the teams to boycott.
“Our generation dropped the ball as a lot of us were more concerned with our own economic gain,” he said. “We were at that point where branding was just beginning and we got caught up in individual branding rather than a unified movement.”
On Wednesday, Magic players were practicing on court before what they thought would be the start of the game but left shortly after they learned the Bucks would not join them.
The Bucks lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and are one of the favorites to win the title. Their star player and reigning league MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, was named NBA defensive player of the year on Tuesday.
This season’s playoffs are taking place in an isolated bubble at Florida’s Walt Disney World due to the Covid-19 pandemic.