Milwaukee Bucks make history striking Game 5 following Jacob Blake shooting.

Never before in NBA history has a playoff game been boycotted. Photo courtesy of Keith Allison.

Author: Uri Uziel

The Milwaukee Bucks have boycotted Game 5 of their first round playoff series against the Orlando Magic, ESPN Senior NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday.

The decision comes in the wake of the ruthless shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin at the hands of Rusten Shensky, a police officer on the Kenosha Police Department. Blake, 29, was shot seven times in the back as he opened the door of his car where his three children were sitting in the backseat. The hospital where Blake is staying reported he is paralyzed from the waist down but is in stable condition. The players are sick of seeing the carnage that black bodies face daily in America.

The NBA and NBPA have agreed to cancel Game 5 of the Milwaukee-Orlando series, the Houston-Oklahoma City series, and the Los Angeles Lakers-Portland series, as well as Thursday’s slate of games.

The players have taken a firm stance in the fight against police brutality. In a league composed of 75% black men, the paralysis–some would call attempted murder–of Blake hit home, especially for Milwaukee. In 2018, Bucks guard Sterling Brown, surrounded by eight Milwaukee PD members, was tasered for the crime of illegally parking outside a southside Walgreens.

There has been mounting unrest in the NBA bubble regarding the lack of justice delivered following the shooting. 

On August 24, Bucks guard George Hill said in a postgame interview, “It’s devastating, basketball shouldn’t even be on our mind right now… none of this really matters today…. You look at the police to protect and serve and now it’s looked to harass and shoot.”

To The Undefeated’s Marc Spears, Hill says, “We’re tired of the killings and the injustice.”

Hill is not alone in his disappointment and anger. Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, clearly distraught, said following a win on August 25, “It’s amazing to me why we keep loving the country, and this country does not love us back.” 

The NBA players decision on whether or not to play in the bubble has been a conversation going back to the beginning of the summer. Notably, Brooklyn Nets all-star guard Kyrie Irving never came to the bubble to continue his work in social justice saying, “I’m willing to give up everything I have [for social reform]” during an 80-plus player video call in early June. Irving was the only NBA player to sit out of the restart bubble in order to pursue social justice.

WNBA players, whose season continues in a bubble in Bradenton, Florida, have long spearheaded the movement of athletes using their platform to advocate for political reform. In 2016, the Minnesota Lynx and New York Liberty took a stand against the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by abandoning WNBA dress protocol and sporting shirts in support of Black Lives Matter.  Since 2018, the leagues Take A Seat and Take A Stand initiative allow a portion of WNBA ticket sale revenue to go toward programs like Planned Parenthood, Bright Pink, GLSEN, It’s On Us, and MENTOR among others

Four time WNBA champion and former MVP Maya Moore announced prior to the 2019 season that she would be taking an extended absence from basketball to focus on criminal justice reform. In her time away from the game, Moore battled the state of Missouri and won, freeing family friend Jonathan Irons from Jefferson City Correctional Center where he wrongly served 23 years of a 50 year sentence as a result of a false testimony.

Outside of the maximum security prison, Irons was met by family and friends, including Moore. Following the victory, Moore said, “I want to speak to positive change and be a part of the rebuilding process from where we’re at right now, because there’s so much greater coming on the horizon, and I see it–even in the darkness, I was able to see it–and I know we’re going. We shouldn’t give up; we should keep going.”

As part of the WNBA restart, the players demanded that the league carry out a theme of social justice throughout the season. As part of this movement, the WNBA has instilled a WNBA/WNBPA Social Justice Council and launched a new platform, The Justice Movement. Both policies aim to boost the platform of the players as they fight for LQBTQ+ rights, voting rights, and other social justice reforms. Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud and forward/center LaToya Sanders have joined Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery in opting out of the season entirely to focus on continuing their work within their respective communities.

WNBA players joined their NBA counterpart in not playing Wednesday night, instead holding a Wubble wide candle light vigil to honor Jacob Blake. 

The strike has garnered mass support across the NBA community. Lebron James has explained his anger toward injustice via twitter, while Kenny Smith, co-host of the Emmy award winning show “Inside the NBA”, walked out of a broadcast in solidarity with the players. ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith said, “There are some things more important than money, our people are more important than money, that’s what [the players] are saying”.

The Milwaukee Bucks’ boycott of Game 5 marks the first time in American team sports history that a playoff game has been boycotted and the first time since a 1961 exhibition that NBA players have boycotted a game. The Celtics black players organized a wildcat strike by not playing a preseason game in Lexington because they were refused service at a local restaurant. Then Celtics center and Hall of Famer Bill Russell said, “One could say we have been victims of psychological warfare, in a sense, in that this is a white country, and all the emphasis is on being white.”

Nearly 60 years following the league’s first strike, NBA players see this moment as a chance to use their platform to work toward the precedent of justice for black people in this country.

Colin Kaepernick kneeled for the national anthem to protest police brutality for the first time August 26th, 2016. Four years to the date.