The NBA’s 11 scheduled games proceeded as scheduled despite the tense scene earlier in the day at the nation’s capital. Members of the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat took a knee during the national anthem at a game in Miami, and the teams issued a joint statement on Blake’s shooting and the Capitol protests.
“We play tonight’s game with a heavy heart after yesterday’s decision in Kenosha, and knowing that protesters in our national’s capital are treated differently by political leaders depending on what side of certain issues they are on,” the statement read. “The drastic different between the way protesters this past spring and summer were treated and the encouragement given to today’s protesters who acted illegally just shows how much more work we have to do.”
The two teams stopped short of sitting out the game, citing a desire to “try to bring joy into people’s lives” and adding that “we must not forget the injustices in our society.”
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced Tuesday that Rusten Sheskey, the officer who shot Blake, a Black man, in the back seven times in August, would not be charged after an extensive review. Blake’s shooting led the Milwaukee Bucks to refuse to take the court for Game 5 of a first-round series against the Orlando Magic, which in turn prompted a three-day shutdown of the playoffs at the NBA bubble in Disney World and fueled widespread protests across professional sports.
The Bucks, who played host to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, took the court like usual and claimed the opening tip-off. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the NBA’s back-to-back MVP, claimed possession and then tossed the ball out of bounds as both teams and the Bucks’ coaching staff took a knee in protest. The Pistons then took possession and repeated the demonstration, with Blake Griffin tossing the ball out of bounds as both teams took a knee. Milwaukee then took possession and the game resumed.
“It’s a lot in America,” Antetokounmpo said. “As Giannis, I stand for change. My team stands for change. Every time we see something that’s not right, we’re going to speak about it and use our platform the right way. This really bothers me. My kid is going to grow up here in America, and my kid is Black. I can’t imagine my kid going through what I’ve seen on the TV.”
Antetokounmpo’s comments followed a statement from the Bucks, issued Tuesday, in which the organization said it "remains firmly against excessive use of force by law enforcement.
“This past year shed light on the ongoing racial injustices facing our African American and other marginalized communities," the statement continued. "Reoccurring instances of excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging the Black community must stop. We will continue to work to enact policy change so these incidents no longer exist.”
Graveley announced that Blake was in possession of a knife at the time of his shooting and that two other police officers who were on the scene at the time of the shooting would not be charged. The decision led to a kneeling protest by the Marquette’s men’s basketball team Tuesday, and it prompted frustrated reactions from across the NBA.
“To hear what happened in Kenosha today was a blow to the heart and to the gut,” Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James said. “Not only to that community but to us and every Black person that has been a part of this process and seen these outcomes for so long. We’ve got to continue to stay strong, to continue to believe in each other and to continue to push for change and the greater good.”
Numerous coaches addressed the temporary occupation of the Capitol building, echoing the theme of disparate treatment given to Black Lives Matter protesters and the pro-Trump group.
“Can you imagine today if those were all Black people storming the Capitol and what would have happened?” Philadelphia 76ers Coach Doc Rivers said. “To me, that’s a picture that’s worth 1,000 words for all of us to see and probably something for us to reckon with again. No police dogs turned on people, no billy clubs hitting people. People peacefully being escorted out of the Capitol.”
Atlanta Hawks Coach Lloyd Pierce said that it was “no coincidence” that the Capitol building siege took place one day after Raphael Warnock won a runoff election and became the first Black senator from Georgia.
“We live in a divided country,” Pierce said. “We could say it’s power and politics, but it’s race as well. Racism is real. The issues are real. The protests are real. What we’re seeing now is a sad reality that our country has yet to reckon with and acknowledge. For those who didn’t believe it, I hope you believe it now."
The Washington Wizards were not in Washington at the time of the protests, and they took the court in Philadelphia against the 76ers. Wizards Coach Scott Brooks called the chaotic scene at the Capitol “disgusting” and “embarrassing.”
“This should not be allowed,” he said. “It’s unacceptable. It’s America’s capital. You should not be able to do what I saw on video.”
Back on Aug. 26, the Bucks decided not to take the court to protest Blake’s shooting, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. The Bucks players called on Wisconsin legislators to “take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform.”