The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association announced that, in light of the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to not take the floor today for Game 5 against the Orlando Magic in protest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, Wednesday’s three games—Bucks vs. Magic, Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers—have been postponed. Game 5 of each series will be rescheduled, the league said.
The boycotts are in response to the shooting of Blake, who was hit multiple times by police in the back while entering his car. The incident, which occurred on Sunday, took place about an hour away from the Bucks’ team facility, and Kenosha, Wisc., has been consumed by nightly protests and violence since, including the deaths of two participants on Tuesday night. Blake is paralyzed from the waist down, according to his father.
After meeting in the locker room for several hours, the Bucks issued a statement. “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action. So our focus today cannot be on basketball… We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officer 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 players said.
The story evolved rapidly over about a 30-minute time frame on Wednesday afternoon. NBA players will be meeting at 8 p.m. this evening to discuss how to proceed, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, and players outside the Florida bubble have been invited to participate.
The ownership of the Bucks, which includes billionaire Marc Lasry, in a statement said it supported the team’s decision not to play. “We fully support our players and the decision they made. Although we did not know beforehand, we would have wholeheartedly agreed with them,” Bucks owners Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan said.
Los Angeles Lakers owner Jeanie Buss expressed her support for the walkouts on Twitter. “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.
National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts issued a statement in support of the protests. “The Players have- once again- made it clear they will not be silent on this issue. We stand with the players on the Milwaukee Bucks to protest this injustice and support the collective decision to postpone all of today’s games,” the statement said.
The National Basketball Referees’ Association tweeted its support, saying “there are more important issues in our country than basketball, and we hope this will inspire change.”
League sponsors have so far stood in support of the walkouts. “At Autotrader we stand behind the decision of the players and the National Basketball Association as we all continue in the fight against racial injustice,” a Autotrader spokesman said in an email.
It’s possible that the remainder of the NBA postseason will not be played. After the Bucks news was announced, MLB’s Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds agreed to postpone their game Wednesday, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal. The Seattle Mariners voted to postpone their game against the San Diego Padres in protest and the WNBA postponed all games in solidarity with the NBA.
Many players were also affected by the emotional words of Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who spoke out Tuesday before his team’s Game 5 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
“All you hear is Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear,” Rivers said as he took his protective mask off to make sure he was heard clearly over the video conference. “We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that were denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. And all you do is keep hearing about fear…”
The Detroit Lions canceled practice on Tuesday and met with the media outside the practice complex while standing behind a sign that read: “THE WORLD CAN’T GO ON.”
“We got together as a team and felt that this was something that just can’t be talked about anymore without being recognized,” guard Oday Aboushi told the NFL Network. “It was something that really shook a lot of guys. It’s a fear that a lot of guys live with every day, a lot of my teammates live with every day, who are Black. It’s something where a simple drive to work can be dangerous for some guys on my team.”
While the future of the NBA season remains unclear, what’s not is the historic nature of the players striking. While there’s been palpable anger, not just in the NBA, but across all of sports, over the various police actions against African Americans, this is the first time players have refused to participate in games during the movement.
(This story has been corrected to clarify the condition of Jacob Blake.)