There were three games scheduled for Thursday, but those games were postponed as the NBA’s players work through the raw emotions shared by many players and coaches in the wake of Blake’s shooting Sunday.
The NBA released a statement saying the league is hopeful to resume games Friday or Saturday. There was a meeting scheduled for Thursday afternoon among players, the governors for the 13 teams remaining at Disney World, National Basketball Players Association representatives and league officials to discuss next steps. Michael Jordan, the Charlotte Hornets chairman and the NBA’s labor relations committee chairman, was set to participate in the meeting. The Chicago Bulls legend is the NBA’s only Black majority owner.
Had the players chosen not to resume play, it probably would have plunged the NBA and the NBPA into a lengthy labor dispute. The two sides have yet to reach an agreement governing the terms of next season, and a shutdown of this summer’s restart could have triggered a lockout, given the billions of lost revenue caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Multiple factors weighed on the decision to play on. In addition to the financial catastrophe and labor squabbles that could result, the players already have sacrificed nearly two months of their lives living and playing in the bubble. The playoff field is narrowing, and select family members who traveled to the bubble soon will be cleared of the mandatory quarantine process to join the players. There also was a sense that players simply needed to hit pause on an unrelenting schedule, which has called on them to play every other day throughout the playoffs.
Earlier this week, Los Angeles Clippers Coach Doc Rivers encouraged the players to continue playing despite his own disgust with Blake’s shooting.
“I think you always play,” he said. “We can fight for justice, but we should still do our jobs. I really believe that. By doing our jobs, people are seeing excellence from Americans — Black Americans and White Americans."
The Bucks’ move to sit out was made shortly before the scheduled start of Wednesday’s game. Following a three-hour team meeting, Bucks guards George Hill and Sterling Brown read a statement explaining the team’s decision, calling for action in Blake’s case.
“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,” Hill said. “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.”
The Bucks did not give prior warning to the opposing Orlando Magic, to NBA officials or to the other teams whose games were postponed. Their decision, which led to a phone conversation from the locker room with Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, prompted a charged meeting Wednesday night in which some players expressed a desire to stop playing in the bubble and return home.
The Bucks’ decision was greeted by support from the team’s owners, who said they were made aware in advance, and by numerous other NBA franchises. The Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers and Sacramento Kings, among others, issued statements decrying racial injustice and standing by the players.
“WE DEMAND CHANGE,” Lakers star LeBron James wrote on Twitter, calling on his social media followers to vote.
A group of referees marched around the bubble Thursday morning to express their solidarity, wearing black T-shirts that read “Everybody vs. Racism.”
“What we’re doing today shows that it’s not only on men and women of color to protest this injustice,” veteran referee Zach Zarba said. “It’s on all of us.”
After the brief flirtation with an abrupt end to the bubble, life returned to some semblance of normal Thursday, with Clippers star Kawhi Leonard puttering around on a golf cart and Toronto Raptors Coach Nick Nurse going for an afternoon jog.
The Bucks’ walkout reverberated outside the NBA, leading to the postponement of games in MLB, MLS and the WNBA and prompting reactions from political figures on both sides of the aisle.
Former president Barack Obama saluted the Bucks and the NBA for “standing up for what they believe in,” while Joe Biden, Obama’s vice president and the Democratic presidential nominee, issued a statement of support.
“This moment demands moral leadership,” Biden wrote on Twitter. “And these players answered by standing up, speaking out, and using their platform for good. Now is not the time for silence.”
“I don’t know much about the NBA protest,” Trump told reporters during a news briefing on Hurricane Laura. “I know their ratings have been very bad because I think people are a little tired of the NBA. … They’ve become like a political organization, and that’s not a good thing.”
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser, called on the players to do more than protest.
“The NBA players are very fortunate that they have the financial position where they’re able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences to themselves financially,” Kushner told CNBC from the White House. “They have that luxury, which is great. With the NBA, there’s a lot of activism, and they’ve put a lot of slogans out. I think what we need to do is turn that from slogans and signals to actual action that’s going to solve the problem.”
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