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Black Lives Matter: NBA’s Players Boycott Games as a Protest

Between August 26 and 29, the NBA playoff games were boycotted by players. The strike was a form of protest, mainly by athletes, against racism and the police violence that that killed Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man who got shot seven times in the back  in Kenosha, Wisconsin. According to witnesses, Blake was trying to settle a fight between two women, when arriving at the scene, the police interpreted that Blake was the accused.

The first boycott

The Milwaukee Bucks players from Wisconsin, the same state where Blake was killed, were the first to boycott league games. The Bucks did not enter the court, catching their opponent, Orlando Magic, by surprise. When the referee team went to the locker room, they were informed of the opponent's team's decision not to play.

All other NBA teams have agreed to boycott the games to protest and many players show support for the decision. The league even had the risk of being canceled. The interruption of the games was a possibility, but the first affected match was expected to be the following day, between the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors, who met to discuss the issue.

Milwaukee Bucks Announcement

After boycotting the match against Magic, George Hill and Sterling Brown read an official statement from the players, accompanied by their teammates. "In 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 shootings of protesters. Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there have been no actions, so our focus cannot be on basketball”, they said.

"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” they added.

Other boycotts on NBA history

This was the first time that several games were boycotted, paralyzing the league. On other occasions, players have not played in a game. In 1959, freshman Elgin Baylor, who was to become a star for the Los Angeles Lakers, that, at the time, still represented Minneapolis, did not step onto the court, protesting against the Cincinnati Royals after a Cincinnati hotel refused to serve black athletes. The Lakers changed hotels, but in the new hotel during meals, black athletes were banned from sitting with other teammates. As early as 1961, the Boston Celtics boycotted an NBA match after their star Bill Russell couldn't enter a restaurant in Kentucky.

Players go to anti-racist protests during NBA shutdown

Many league players took to the streets together with the other protesters, while the NBA was paralyzed due to the coronavirus. Greek NBA star of Nigerian descent, Giannis Antetokounmpo went to a peaceful protest that demanded justice for George Floyd, a black man killed by the police.

Milwaukee Bucks player Antetokounmpo spoke at the protest. "We want change, we want justice, and that is why we are out here", he said. Also, the athlete emotionally talked about his son  "I want my son to grow up here in Milwaukee, and don't be afraid to walk the streets. I don't want my son to have hate in his heart when he understands all of this." Other players on the team were present at the protest, such as Donte DiVincenzo, Sterling Brown and Frank Mason III.

In June, Russell Westbrook, a Houston Rockets player, announced that he will produce a documentary about the Tulsa racial massacre, the biggest in the history of the United States, which will turn 100 in 2021. The work will be titled "Terror in Tulsa: The Rise and Fall of Black Wall Street" and will be directed by Stanley Nelson, who has won three Emmys. Westbrook led the protests in Compton, California, along with DeMar DeRozan from the San Antonio Spurs. Other players from both teams were also present.

Washington Wizards players like Bradley Beal and John Wall were at the protests in the American capital. In Chicago Wendell Carter Jr., coach Jim Boylen and his Chicago Bulls assistants also marched through the city streets. Jaylen Brown was another athlete to protest and speak on the streets, the Celtic franchise player drove for 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to join the protesters.

NBA was already active with the cause

From March to July, due to the coronavirus, the NBA was paralyzed. To return to activities, the league confined the teams to a Walt Disney World hotel complex in Orlando, where matches are being played. On his return, the NBA was in tune with the wave of anti-racist protests in the United States, which broke out with the death of George Floyd.

Technical committee and players kneel during the United States anthem to honor all victims of racism, while the phrase "Black Lives Matter" stands out. Coaches wear shirts with the words "racial justice" during the match. The athletes' jerseys were stamped with anti-racist words in the place that kept their names. For example, "Black Lives Matter," Say Their Names", "Justice", " Equality", "Freedom", "Enough", "Listen to Us", "Speak Up" and “How Many More?".

During the Disney bubble several players gave emotional statements on the issue. One of them was Lebron James, the main name of the league, who said on twitter after the Lakers' third victory over the Portland Trail Blazer. "I can't even enjoy a playoff win right now. “Quite frankly it's just f****d up in our community, we are scared as black people in America...black men, black women, black kids, we are terrified".

Other sports followed the NBAs exemple

Led by the NBA, hours later the WNBA stopped its activities. Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer players also decided to stop their games. In addition to the leagues, Naomi Osaka, number 10 tennis player in the world decided not to play, interrupting the Cincinnati tournament.

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The article above was edited by Beatriz Cristina.

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Camila Nascimento

Casper Libero '24

Curious journalism student who loves to write about everything!
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