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Bigger than Basketball: Milwaukee Bucks boycott NBA playoff game in protest of Jacob Blake shooting

The dramatic series of moves began when the Bucks — the NBA’s team from Wisconsin, a state rocked in recent days by the shooting by police officers of Jacob Blake, a Black man — did not take the floor for their playoff game against the Magic.

The teams were set to begin Game 5 of their series shortly after 4:00 p.m., with the Bucks needing a win to advance to the second round. Players had been discussing boycotting games in the bubble after the shooting of Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. More discussions were scheduled Wednesday, but even before that the Bucks apparently decided they would act.

“Some things are bigger than basketball,” Bucks senior vice president Alex Lasry tweeted. “The stand taken today by the players and (the organization) shows that we’re fed up. Enough is enough. Change needs to happen. I’m incredibly proud of our guys and we stand 100% behind our players ready to assist and bring about real change.”

The Milwaukee Common Council released a joint statement commending the Bucks for putting social justice at the forefront. Members included Alderman Khalif J. Rainey, Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs, Alderman Russell W. Stamper, II, Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, and Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd.

“The Milwaukee Bucks were scheduled to begin game five of their first round playoff series against the Orlando Magic. Instead, the team banded together and remained in the locker room to boycott the game in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha,” said the statement. “This is a seminal moment, and we applaud the Bucks for stepping up and providing leadership by putting issues of racial justice ahead of sports. It is our hope that this will encourage others to do the same and use their platforms to push these conversations forward so we can enact meaningful and lasting change.”

There are three other playoff games scheduled Thursday, August 27. It was unclear if they would be affected. Several NBA players, including LeBron James, tweeted out messages demanding change and the Boston Celtics’ official Twitter account did the same.

Magic player and referees were on the basketball court for the game but Milwaukee never took the floor. Eventually everyone else left and the arena staff soon took the balls, towels and tags that go on player chairs back inside.

Demanding societal change and ending racial injustice has been a major part of the NBA’s restart at Walt Disney World. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” is painted on the arena courts, players are wearing messages urging change on their jerseys and coaches are donning pins demanding racial justice as well.

“We’re the ones getting killed,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who is Black, said in an emotional postgame speech Tuesday night. “We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that we’re denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. And all you do is keep hearing about fear. It’s amazing why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back. And it’s just, it’s really so sad.”

The Celtics and Toronto Raptors met to discuss boycotting Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, which had been scheduled for Thursday. Members of the National Basketball Players Association were also part of those meetings, and Miami forward Andre Iguodala — a union officer — said around 2:15 p.m. that he did not believe a boycott plan had been finalized. Less than two hours later, the Bucks would not take the floor.

By early evening, the Milwaukee Bucks released an official statement explaining their decision.

“The past four months have shed a light on the ongoing racial injustices facing our African American communities. Citizens around the country have used their voices and platforms to speak out against these wrongdoings. Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin, we’ve seen the horrendous video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, and the additional shooting of protestors. Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.

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 November 3.”

There was a poetic irony that everything unfolded on the fourth anniversary of Colin Kaepernick’s very first protest of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before an NFL preseason game.

Brіаn Mаhоnеy, with Tіm Rеynоlds

Milwaukee Bucks / NBA and Lee Matz

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