It had been over five months without basketball. The spread of the Coronavirus had forced all basketball operations to shut down in the NBA. Players and fans waited to hear what the plan would be for a return to sports. During this wait, the country went through intense riots and protests in response to the commonality of social injustices. It led many prominent athletes to speak out and demand action. Many of them suggested that the remainder of the NBA season be cancelled. They claimed that even if it did resume, they would refuse to play in a protest to the injustices around the country. When the NBA resumed in Orlando, several players around the league did not come.
Hours before the fifth game of the NBA season on Wed, Aug 26, the Milwaukee Bucks made a historic decision to strike. Only days after the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the team rocked the NBA with it’s surprising decision.
On the night of the shooting, Blake had a warrant out since March for his arrest for third degree sexual assault in a domestic case. After police responded to a call for “family problems,” dispatch alerted the officer at the scene of Blake’s warrant. Due to reported noncompliance from Blake, the officers at the scene drew their guns as Blake attempted to reach inside his car. When Blake opened his car door, Officer Rusten Sheskey grabbed his shirt and shot him seven times in a row in his back.
Police reports state that Blake was unarmed and there was no gun on site, but reports did state that a knife was found on the floorboard of his car. Speculation regarding whether or not Blake was reaching for the knife has circled since the event itself, but there is no solid evidence to confirm or deny this statement at this time.
Only hours away from the site of the shooting, the Milwaukee Bucks took this event very personally and were reportedly very upset about the incident the night of the game. The Bucks had originally made the collective decision in a pre-game meeting that they would not play in the first-round playoff games against their opposing team, Orlando Magic.
Soon thereafter, the rest of the NBA playoff teams followed suit. Some of the MLS, NHL, NFL, MLB and WNBA teams, along with tennis star Naomi Osaka, the New York Mets and Miami Marlins also joined the strike.
“Once the NBA stopped, everything else stopped,” Russell Westbrook said. “Our voices were heard.”
The Bucks’ decision was made after a three hour deliberation among the team.
“We’re sorry that it took a little more time, but we thought it would be best for us as a team to brainstorm a little bit, educate ourselves and not rush into having raw emotion,” Hill said, apologizing for the delay in their decision.
Late Wednesday night, the players organized a league-wide meeting in Orlando, FL in a hotel where the NBA had housed its players during the coronavirus pandemic. Those in attendance reported it to be emotional and disorganized. Players and coaches gathered to use their platform to act against injustice.
“Adam [Silver] and the owners were on board,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Even the things they didn’t agree on, they discussed.”
”They gave us their word that they have our back,” added Danny Green.
Their first step had been to strike, but this meeting brought other ideas of reform to the table.
“15 years in this league, I’ve never seen anything like it. The voices that were heard, I’ll never forget it,” said Chris Paul.
On Thursday, the teams met individually, and Michael Jordan joined to advise the teams on what action they needed to demand.
“He was huge in making sure that whatever we want to do together, we get it done,” said Westbrook.
Andre Iguodala, a Miami Heat forward, recommended political action from the league, but this statement was quickly dismissed when union stats revealed that less than one quarter of NBA players were registered to vote. But despite the low stats, they still felt the importance of voting. A decision was made with the NBA to have advertising during each game “dedicated to promoting and raising awareness around voter access and opportunity.”
They also agreed to open up several arenas as voting stations in the upcoming presidential elections. Reuters also reported that league owners pledged to donate a hefty sum of three-hundred million dollars over the next ten years to inspire economic empowerment within the black community.
“[A] lot of our top guys, most teams, wanted to be here, wanted to play,” Green said.
“But if we don’t stand for [anything] we won’t get anything done. So we were willing to walk away,” added Paul. “We understood the platform that we have, and we wanted to keep our foot to the pedal.”
So after 48 hours, the strike came to a close and playoffs resumed. Many still wondered if the strike was worth it, but the players and coaches believed it made a difference. Their voices were heard, a change was made.