Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks Players’ Strike Instantly Seems Like It Was Inevitable

An empty basketball court with four referees off to the side.
Referees stand on an empty court before the start of a scheduled playoff game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic on Wednesday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Players for the Milwaukee Bucks refused to participate in Wednesday’s opening-round playoff game in response to Sunday’s police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Bucks did not come out of their locker room for pregame warmups at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Their opponents, the Orlando Magic walked off the floor shortly before the scheduled 4 p.m. tipoff. When the buzzer sounded, no one was left on the court.

Officials for the NBA waited outside of Milwaukee’s locker room as the team discussed its plans. By 4:13 p.m., the Bucks, whose arena is a 45-minute drive from Kenosha, had officially sat out of the contest.

Before entering the NBA’s bubble in late June*, players issued concerns that games would distract from the social justice movement sparked by the killing of George Floyd. The league imported language and symbols of the protests into Orlando, including “Black Lives Matter” decals on the courts, but it didn’t account for what, in retrospect, seems like the inevitable: This was going to happen again.

If the league didn’t anticipate this, the players likely did. In July, Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown described his own experience with police violence in the Players’ Tribune. “[H]ow many times does something like this happen when there isn’t a camera recording?” he wrote. “How many times does it happen to someone who isn’t an NBA player and who doesn’t have the platform I have to make people stop and listen?”

After video of Kenosha police shooting Blake in front of his children spread online, players inside the bubble spoke of their feelings of helplessness. “I think for us, we just wanted to make a difference, wanted to make a change, and seeing that shows that things are the same,” Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam told reporters. “I’m sure you guys probably have questions, but I’m really not trying to answer anything. My head is not really at that. We came here for a reason and using our platform and wanting to send a message and hopefully bring awareness and bring a change, but I don’t know. It just feels like we’re stuck.”

During the press scrum after his team’s victory Tuesday night, Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers gave a powerful speech regarding racism in America.

On Tuesday, members of the defending-champion Raptors and Boston Celtics held a players-only meeting to discuss sitting out the opening contest of their second-round playoff series. “Boycotting the game has come up for them as a way to try to demand a little more action,” Toronto head coach Nick Nurse said. “That’s really what they want. I think there’s enough attention and not quite enough action, and that’s what I can sense from the discussions is their disappointment.” Nurse added that some players expressed a desire to leave the bubble entirely and return to their families.

The Bucks’ protest was met with support by current and former NBA stars who tweeted messages of solidarity on Wednesday.

Two other playoff games were scheduled for Wednesday, but the Rockets and Thunder announced that they would be sitting out their contest as well.

Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Wednseday’s entire slate of games would be postponed.

In response to its workers’ strike, the league office confirmed in a statement that Wednesday’s games “have been postponed.

Update, 6:15 p.m. ET: The Milwaukee Brewers are sitting out of their game against the Cincinnati Reds.

Update: 8:25 p.m. ET: The Bucks players delivered a statement to the media Wednesday night explaining their decision and its goals. Starting guards George Hill and Sterling Brown read the message aloud to assembled reporters. “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball,” Brown read. They continued:

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. 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. We encourage all citizens to educate themselves, take peaceful and responsible action, and remember to vote on Nov. 3.

The entire speech can be seen below:

This is a breaking news story that has been updated with new information since it was first published.

Correction, Aug. 25, 2020: This post originally misstated when NBA players entered the bubble in Orlando.

Listen to a special episode of Slate’s sports podcast Hang Up and Listen about the strike below, or subscribe to the show on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotifyStitcherGoogle Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.