That incident, in which an unarmed Blake was shot seven times in his back Sunday at close range, was captured on video and quickly sparked anger nationwide as it went viral. By Tuesday evening, a possible stoppage in play, including among members of the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors before their Eastern Conference semifinal series begins Thursday, was clearly on players’ minds.
Soon after the Bucks, who normally play about 45 minutes north of where Blake was shot, made it clear that they were protesting racial injustice by refusing to play, James tweeted in all caps, “F--K THIS MAN!!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.”
James’s Los Angeles Lakers were set to continue their first round series against the Portland Trail Blazers later Wednesday night, but that was pushed back, as was a game between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. Meanwhile, the four-time NBA MVP, who has frequently been outspoken on social issues in the past and is arguably the most influential voice among players, was hardly alone Wednesday in expressing extreme dissatisfaction.
Also posting variations of “We demand change” were: Jordan Clarkson of the Utah Jazz, Robert Covington of the Rockets, Brandon Goodwin of the Atlanta Hawks, Josh Hart of the New Orleans Pelicans, Tyus Jones of the Memphis Grizzlies, Enes Kanter of the Boston Celtics, Jalen Lecque of the Phoenix Suns, Terance Mann of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz, Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets, Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Trae Young of the Hawks.
Grizzlies star Ja Morant tweeted that “this s--t gotta stop!!”
“For those who don’t understand what is going on, it will always be bigger than basketball!” Eric Paschall of the Golden State Warriors declared. “We demand change!!! We demand justice! Have a blessed day!”
Paschall’s encouragement for others to see that “this is bigger than basketball” was echoed by, among several other players, the San Antonio Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan, who added, “Whoever don’t understand that is part of the problem.”
Jarrett Culver of the Minnesota Timberwolves added a Bible citation, Ecclesiastes 4:12, which states (via biblegateway.com): ″Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Morant and several other NBA players, including Grizzlies teammate Jaren Jackson Jr., DeRozan and the Spurs’ LaMarcus Aldridge, saluted the Bucks for their decision. Most of those messages included a symbol of a raised fist.
Players were not the only notable NBA figures to declare their support for the stunning turn of events Wednesday.
Lakers owner Jeannie Buss tweeted, “I was excited to see us play — and hopefully close out our series — tonight. But I stand behind our players, today and always. After more than 400 years of cruelty, racism and injustice, we all need to work together to say enough is enough.” She added the hashtags, “#JusticeForJacobBlake” and “#WeHearYou.”
Alex Lasry, a Bucks executive and the son of team co-owner Marc Lasry, said on Twitter, “I’m incredibly proud of our guys and we stand 100% behind our players ready to assist and bring about real change.”
“Some things are bigger than basketball,” he added. “The stand taken today by the players and org shows that we’re fed up. Enough is enough. Change needs to happen.”
Former Boston Celtics great Bill Russell tweeted that he “was moved by all the NBA players for standing up for what is right.” Russell also singled out TNT’s Kenny Smith, who at the start of the network’s Wednesday evening “Inside the NBA” broadcast, said, “for me, the biggest thing right now, as a Black man, as a former player, I think it’s best for me to support the players and just not be here tonight.” Smith then removed his microphone and left the set.
Later on Wednesday, former president Barack Obama, a noted basketball fan, also weighed in. Sharing video of emotional comments made the night before by Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, Obama wrote, “I commend the players on the @Bucks for standing up for what they believe in, coaches like @DocRivers, and the @NBA and @WNBA for setting an example. It’s going to take all our institutions to stand up for our values.”
Former vice president and current Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden tweeted, “This moment demands moral leadership. And these players answered by standing up, speaking out, and using their platform for good.”
The shows of solidarity moved many players, including the Cavaliers’ Jordan Bell, who tweeted, “So proud of all the teams taking a stand together!”
“We have the strongest, most unified league in the world!!!” Cleveland’s Kevin Love exclaimed.