The message was heard but clearly not taken seriously. So the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their playoff game.
The shocking move unfolded Wednesday afternoon inside the Orlando bubble, where the Bucks were scheduled to tipoff at 4 p.m. but never stepped on the court. Instead, their opponent — the Orlando Magic — warmed up per usual while Milwaukee remained in the locker room. When it became clear the Bucks weren’t arriving, the Magic players walked off and the game was postponed. It shocked referees and broadcasters on NBA TV, who were all preparing for Game 5. It was the boldest message yet from an NBA team as the league tries to juggle their objective of promoting the Black Lives Matter movement while broadcasting the playoffs.
It’s unclear if the Bucks will forfeit Wednesday’s game. They are the Eastern Conference’s top seed and lead the series, 3-1.
It’s worth noting that the Bucks play in the same state — Wisconsin — where Jacob Blake was shot in the latest example of police brutality aimed at an unarmed African American. “We’re tired of the killings and the injustice,” Bucks guard George Hill told The Undefeated.
Even before Milwaukee protested the game, players from the Raptors and Celtics were in discussion to boycott their matchup Thursday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Their thinking, as outlined by Celtics All-Star Jayson Tatum, is that attempts at messaging and raising awareness clearly haven’t solved any problems, so more drastic measures must be considered.
“People are going to say sitting out, what is that going to do?” Tatum said. “Obviously if we sit out a game or the rest of the playoffs, we understand how big of an impact that would have. Everyone is going to have to talk about it … we don’t want to just keep playing and forget about what is happening on the outside world.”
The Raptors, seeded second in the Eastern Conference, and the No. 3 Celtics held a players-only meeting Tuesday night to discuss the options. They declined to delve into details to the media, but Toronto coach Nick Nurse hinted that the players are leaning toward a boycott.
It’s easy to understand the players’ frustrations. They’ve been stuck inside a bubble for over a month, often drawing attention to the Breonna Taylor case but failing to gain traction. The police officers who shot Taylor remain largely undisciplined, and the outrage over George Floyd’s killing was still simmering when Blake was shot Sunday by cops in Kenosha, Wis.
As long as they play the games, fans are entertained and owners can recoup some of the money lost because of the pandemic.
On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine how much change can be inspired by not playing. Kyrie Irving, for instance, pushed for players to skip the bubble because, among other reasons, it would detract from the movement against social injustice. Irving stayed home along with several other players — including Kevin Durant, Avery Bradley and Bradley Beal — but any impact they might be having on the movement has been hidden compared to the players in the Orlando spotlight.
Would boycotting a game promote police reform or prompt justice for Taylor? The Bucks were willing to find out.
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