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NBA postpones Wednesday's playoff games after Bucks players don't take court in response to shooting of Jacob Blake

An empty court and bench are shown before

An empty court and bench are shown before the start of a scheduled game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic for Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.  Credit: AP/Kevin C. Cox

As the NBA convened in the bubble environment some players debated whether returning to the court would take the focus off of the social justice that they were seeking. As the games wore on, perhaps the impact of the messages on the back of the players jerseys and the memory of George Floyd and the protests faded.

But with the shooting of Jacob Blake taking place in Kenosha, Wisconsin, this week and protests rising there, the NBA players and their counterparts in the WNBA and even Major League Baseball increased the volume of their protests. It began in the afternoon when the Milwaukee Bucks players decided to boycott Game 5 of their playoff series against the Orlando Magic becoming the first NBA team to chose to sit out a game in protest.

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association announced that, “in light of the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to not take the floor today for Game 5 against the Orlando Magic, today’s three games — Bucks vs. Magic, Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers — have been postponed. Game 5 of each series will be rescheduled.”

The Milwaukee Brewers then called off their game against the Cincinnati Reds and the WNBA players took the court kneeling together wearing T-shirts that spelled out the name, Jacob Blake, with seven bullet holes cut in the back of the shirts, symbolizing the number of times Blake had been shot by police.

More than three hours after the game was to begin the Bucks emerged from their locker room and two of the players, George Hill and Sterling Brown, read a statement and the team then left the AdventHealth Arena without answering questions — including whether the season would resume.

“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, Brown read.

“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 protesters. Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today can not 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.”

Before the game was scheduled to begin the Magic were on the court warming up, trailing three games to one in the best-of-seven series. But the Bucks never appeared as speculation and reports began to surface that the team had discussed a protest. Shortly before the scheduled 4 p.m. start the Magic players returned to their locker room, too, as NBA executives sought answers.

In a statement early Wednesday evening, the Bucks said "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."

"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," the Magic said in a statement.

The Magic left the arena as the Bucks remained, reportedly trying to reach out to the Wisconsin attorney general. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, who were scheduled to play in the second game, arrived and with NBPA president Chris Paul a part of the game, they never even reached the locker room before they were told that the game would not take place.

Alex Lasry, senior vice president of the Bucks, tweeted, “Some things are bigger than basketball. The stand taken today by the players and org shows that we’re fed up. Enough is enough. 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.”

For the Bucks, this issue has been a personal one. Brown, a reserve on the team, was taken to the ground, beaten and tased by police after parking illegally outside a Walgreens late at night two years ago.

Players who were not part of this game immediately took to social media and supported the decision. Denver’s Jamal Murray tweeted, “WE DEMAND JUSTICE.” Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, on his Twitter account, posted, “WE DEMAND CHANGE! SALUTE Bucks,” with praying hands after it. Then LeBron James, who was scheduled to play at 9 p.m., turned it up, tweeting, “[Expletive] THIS MAN!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.” A flood of players followed, filling up social media with demands for change as players met in the Orlando bubble to try to figure out the next steps. The NBA has two games scheduled for Thursday, including the Toronto Raptors against the Boston Celtics, where players have already expressed interest in boycotting.

After the Los Angeles Clippers’ win Tuesday night, coach Doc Rivers was asked about the shooting of Blake and he responded passionately. ”All you hear is Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear," Rivers said of the Republican National Convention. "We're the ones getting killed. We're the ones getting shot. We're the ones that we're denied to live in certain communities. We've been hung. We've been shot. And all you do is keep hearing about fear.”

The National Basketball Referees Association also supported the decision by the teams not to play.

"The NBRA stands in solidarity with our players' decision to boycott tonight’s games in protest of the continued unjustified killing of black men and women by law enforcement," the NBRA said. "There are more important issues in our country than basketball and we hope this will inspire change."

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