The Milwaukee Bucks boycotted Game 5 of their NBA playoff series with the Orlando Magic Wednesday afternoon in the aftermath of the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha police officer on Sunday night.
The city of Kenosha has erupted into chaos the past two nights over the shooting of Blake, who is Black, by a white officer who fired several shots into Blake’s back as he leaned into a car. On Tuesday night, a 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, shot three protesters, leaving two dead and a third seriously injured on the streets of Kenosha.
Although Magic players had been on the court warming up, Bucks players refused to come out of the locker room for the scheduled 3 p.m. tip-off inside the NBA “bubble” in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The Bucks lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and could have secured a second-round matchup with the Miami Heat with a win.
The players spent several hours in the locker room after the game was supposed to tip off. “We felt it would be best for us as a team to brainstorm a little bit, educate ourselves and not rush into having raw emotion,” Bucks guard George Hill said when they emerged.
The first portion of the players’ statement was read by Sterling Brown, the Bucks guard who filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Milwaukee Police Department over an incident in which he was tased and arrested after a parking violation outside a Walgreens in 2018.
“The past four months have shed a light on the ongoing racial injustices facing our African American community,” Brown said. “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 have 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 protesters. Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action. So our focus today cannot be on basketball.”
Hill continued the statement: “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 we are demanding the same from lawmakers and law enforcement. 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. We encourage all citizens to educate themselves, take peaceful and responsible action and remember to vote on Nov. 3.”
The Bucks’ stand lit a match that burned through professional sports. The players of the four teams scheduled for the rest of the NBA’s Wednesday playoff slate also opted to boycott their games, and all of the WNBA games and most of the MLS matches scheduled for Wednesday were canceled.
And about two hours after the Bucks’ boycott, the Milwaukee Brewers held a team meeting and also opted to not play their game scheduled for Wednesday night against the Cincinnati Reds at Miller Park.
“The players from the Brewers and Reds have decided to not play tonight’s baseball game,” said a joint statement released by the Reds and Brewers players. “With our community and our nation in such pain, we wanted to draw as much attention to the issues that really matter, especially racial injustice and systemic oppression.”
Four other MLB teams joined the work stoppage as well.
It remained unclear Wednesday evening how the NBA would handle the situation and how, or if, the game would be made up.
The team’s owners, however, issued a statement backing their players. “We fully support our players and the decision they made. Although we did not know beforehand, we would have wholeheartedly agreed with them. The only way to bring about change is to shine a light on the racial injustices that are happening in front of us. Our players have done that and we will continue to stand alongside them and demand accountability and change,” said the statement signed by Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan.
Longtime Bucks broadcaster Jim Paschke announced that the Magic team had left the arena with “the intention of not accepting a forfeit win” from the Bucks.
The Magic later issued the following statement: “Today we stand united with the NBA office, the National Basketball Players Association, the Milwaukee Bucks and the rest of the league condemning bigotry, racial injustice and the unwarranted use of violence by police against people of color.”
With suddenly no game to call, the Bucks’ broadcast team stepped smoothly into the role of discussing racial justice issues in America instead of pick-and-rolls and zone defenses.
“It’s a tough time to focus on basketball,” television analyst and former Bucks player Marques Johnson said. “Everybody has got to search their souls and determine what’s best for them.”
Johnson went on to say that “aggressive and forceful” steps need to be taken to address systemic racism.
“There has been a lot of progress in this country, I’m not short-changing that. But the things that happened to me as a young 16-year-old in Los Angeles in 1972 are happening, and worse, here in 2020,” he said. “There is something wrong with that. For the Bucks players, this is their effort to try and initiate and be the catalyst for some of that change. I applaud them.”
Bucks sideline reporter Zora Stephenson provided several emotional commentaries, saying in one that it’s important for everyone to reflect on the cost of what’s being given up in order to take a stand against racial injustice.
“You can talk, you can tweet, you can protest, you can donate,” Stephenson said. “But what are you willing to give up until you see that change actually happen? If the Bucks do in fact decide, and have decided not to play this game, they have made a statement that they are willing to give up a playoff game during their pursuit of something that they have worked for all year. They have said, ‘This is worth it. We are willing to sacrifice.’”
Bucks senior vice president Alex Lasry tweeted that the stand taken today by the Bucks players and organization shows that “we’re fed up.”
“Enough is enough,” Lasry tweeted. “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.”
Former Bucks player John Henson, who currently plays for the Detroit Pistons, simply tweeted “LOVE IT,” in response to the Bucks decision. While playing in Milwaukee, Henson accused a Whitefish Bay jewelry store of racially profiling him.
Utah Jazz player Donovan Mitchell tweeted “WE DEMAND CHANGE! SALUTE @BUCKS.”
Former Marquette University star and current Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers issued an emotional statement tied to Blake’s shooting following his team’s game on Tuesday night.
“It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back,” Rivers said, with tears in his eyes. “It’s really so sad. Like, I should just be a coach. I’m so often reminded of my color. It’s just really sad. We got to do better. But we got to demand better.”