Good morning, folks. The players have gone on strike. Let’s talk NBA Bubble.
So Wednesday was quite interesting, to say the least. Rumors began circulating earlier this week that some players were questioning whether or not to finish out the postseason in the Orlando Bubble following the senseless shooting of a Black man named Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The incident was an ugly reminder that not much has changed in society since the NBA elected to finish up the 2019-20 season a few months ago, despite the player’s efforts to promote change from within the restricted Bubble environment. On Tuesday, Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet was the first player to openly suggest going on strike for his team’s opening game against the Boston Celtics in the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Wednesday afternoon, those rumors became reality with the snap of a finger. The Milwaukee Bucks were scheduled to play Game 5 of the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs against the Orlando Magic, where the latter leads 3-1. But just minutes before tip-off, the Bucks were still not on the court going through a regular shootaround. Then the big news hit: the Bucks were going on strike for Game 5 in an effort to bring more attention to what happened in Kenosha, a city located roughly 45 minutes away from Milwaukee. From there, the dominos quickly began to fall. Within the next two hours, it was announced that the two games set for later in the evening, Rockets-Thunder and Lakers-Trail Blazers, would be postponed, leaving the remainder of the postseason up in the air.
More news began to leak as we entered Wednesday night. Players and coaches called together a meeting around 8 p.m. where the situation reportedly got a bit “ugly” with the overall topic of conversation being whether or not the season should continue. According to multiple reports, the two teams from Los Angeles, the Clippers and Lakers, were the two organizations that voted against finishing out the season. That isn’t to say that they’ll be leaving the Bubble, but that they at least want to put pressure on the NBA’s governors to do more as they’re the people with the most political power within the league to force a societal change. LeBron James has reportedly been at the forefront of that movement, suggesting that the governors haven’t done nearly enough to help influence change. Along with LeBron, Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard was also supportive of closing the Bubble and going home. When two of the biggest stars in the sport are this vocal, their voices carry an intense amount of weight.
The NBA’s governors are expected to hold a meeting on Thursday at 11 a.m., coinciding with another player’s meeting that will take place at the same time.
Players spoke passionately about voting and police reform, per sources. There's a sense from some that if owners don't come up with something that makes them believe staying will help move these important issues forward, this season is done.
— Chris Mannix (@SIChrisMannix) August 27, 2020
About two hours after the scheduled tipoff, the entire Bucks team made a statement to the media, addressing its reasoning for the strike and what they expect going forward. Here is what George Hill and Sterling Brown had to say as the team’s representatives (it should be noted that Brown was the victim of racial profiling by Milwaukee police back in 2018).
The Milwaukee Bucks statement: pic.twitter.com/F7XOPs4NqE
— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) August 26, 2020
“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 Nov. 3.”
There was reportedly tension within the meeting that was held later in the day, as some of the players claimed that the Bucks essentially catching the rest of the league off guard. The Magic were not given any prior notice and were on the floor warming up 15 minutes before the scheduled tip-off. Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown reportedly spoke up and said that the Bucks did not need to justify why they went on strike and that he fully supported the decision.
Sources: As some in tonight's meeting wanted to hear Bucks' explanation for making an abrupt decision independent of rest of teams to boycott game, Boston's Jaylen Brown essentially said that the Bucks didn't need to explain themselves and he fully supported what they did today.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 27, 2020
Inside the NBA commentator, Kenny Smith, who is a former player, showed his support by addressing the situation on live television and walking off the set after speaking some powerful words.
Shoutout to Kenny Smith pic.twitter.com/7DUHjr6zIA
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) August 26, 2020
At the moment, there is momentum to not play the three playoff games scheduled for Thursday. The WNBA also canceled all three of its games on Wednesday and there is talk that they could follow in the path of the NBA’s decision, whatever that ends up being. The video below of WNBA players wearing t-shirts with seven bullet holes in the back gave me chills up and down my entire body.
WNBA players took to the court wearing t-shirts with bullet holes in them in protest at the shooting of Jacob Blake.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 27, 2020
But this movement hasn’t been restricted to just basketball; five out of six Major League Soccer games were postponed on Wednesday in protest while three Major League Baseball games also met the same fate. Tennis star Naomi Osaka also announced that she would not play in the Western & Southern Open semifinal that is scheduled for Thursday.
This is a historic moment in American history, one that could–and hopefully will–lead to actual, visible change. Kneeling for the anthem and reiterating the phrase “Black Lives Matter” can only go so far, particularly in a confined Bubble. But an entire league going on strike, with other major sports league joining in, is how you force the hand of the people in charge. Today’s meetings at 11 a.m. will give us all a better idea of where the Bubble goes from here; do they finish out the playoffs or go home? Personally, I will fully support whatever decision the players come to. Change does not happen with silence. The NBA has brought me immense joy over the last three-to-four weeks, but I am even prouder that the individuals I cover on a daily basis are willing to put it all on the line to stand up for what they believe is right.
Isn’t that what we should all want, anyways?