When the NBA postponed its slate of playoff games on Wednesday, it triggered a wave of support and walkouts in other professional sports from baseball to tennis. Solidarity that previously consisted of shirts and slogans has been replaced by action- to walk away from the games themselves, and this time with support from owners, coaches and broadcasters.
The Milwaukee Bucks stayed in the locker room for their playoff game against the Orlando Magic in the league’s bubble at Walt Disney World. The Magic later left the court and the NBA announced that all three postseason games were postponed.
The walkouts followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake multiple times in the back, in Kenosha, Wisc. on Sunday. The city has been engulfed in protests and violence since, resulting in the deaths of two participants on Tuesday. Blake is paralyzed from the waist down, according to his father.
For the NBA players, this latest shooting at the hands of police was enough. Confined to their bubble for more than a month, players met on Wednesday night to decide their next course of action, while the league’s owners are scheduled to have an emergency meeting on Thursday.
The players have received support from some of the most powerful people in the NBA and other sports. Steve Ballmer, billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, backed the protest and referenced one of the key issues players discuss: criminal justice reform.
“I am again angry over the shooting of a black man #JacobBlake. @DocRivers and The @Bucks players said it well,” Ballmer tweeted. “We need real police accountability. Give citizens data to do so. Let’s have criminal justice reform that keeps all people safe but not senselessly imprisoned or afraid.”
Bucks’ ownership, a trio of Wall Street titans, also supported the players.
“We fully support our players and the decision they made,” owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens, and Jamie Dinan said in a statement. “Although we did not know beforehand, we would have wholeheartedly agreed with them. The only way to bring about change is to shine a light on the racial injustices that are happening in front of us. Our players have done that and we will continue to stand alongside them and demand accountability and change.”
As news of the walkouts spread, other sports began to take note, and MLB’s Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds declined to take to the field as well. The Seattle Mariners then voted to not play their game against the San Diego Padres.
Tennis player Naomi Osaka said she would not play in her semifinal match at the Western & Southern Open on Thursday. TNT broadcaster Kenny Smith walked off the set of ‘NBA on TNT’ in support of the players’ protest.
Back in the bubble, however, the fate of the NBA’s season remains in the balance. Two teams, Los Angeles’ Lakers and Clippers, voted to end the season, while the others, including the Bucks, elected to continue and play on, according to Yahoo Sports. Four-time league MVP and Lakers star LeBron James is said to have stormed out of the meeting. The vote was considered non-binding and a final decision will be made later this week.
Laker’s owner Jeannie Buss was among those who expressed support for the boycott.
“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,” Buss wrote on Twitter.
Though the players have managed a limited united front, the backing of ownership and the postponement of games is unprecedented and leading the NBA and other pro leagues to new frontiers in a season of historical firsts that no one predicted.