The NBA postponed all playoff games on Wednesday night in response to several teams’ decisions to not participate over the recent police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which has resulted in days of unrest.
The Milwaukee Bucks initially staged the walkout during Wednesday’s NBA playoff game against the Orlando Magic. The Bucks players formalized the decision not to play before tipoff in Orlando, sources told The Athletic and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
“The past four months have shed a light on the ongoing racial injustices facing our African American community,” Bucks guard Sterling Brown, himself a victim of police brutality, read from a statement.
“Despite the overwhelming plea for change,” he continued, “there have been no actions, so our focus cannot be on basketball.”
The Bucks’ decision was followed by the cancellation of the Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder game, and the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trailblazers game.
WNBA teams also said they would not be playing on Wednesday evening, and all three games in the league were canceled.
In an apparent show of solidarity, the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds MLB teams announced shortly after the NBA news that they, too, were postponing their Wednesday game. The Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres, as well as the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, followed suit.
“The NBA and the NBPA today 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 - MIL-ORL, HOU-OKC and LAL-POR have been postponed,” the NBA tweeted. “Game 5 of each series will be rescheduled.”
The National Basketball Referees Association lent their support to the protest, saying it “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. There are more important issues in our country than basketball and we hope this will inspire change.” The owners of the Bucks also said they stood by the team’s decision.
The Bucks are geographically the closest team to Kenosha, where a police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, seven times in the back over the weekend while his children were nearby.
Video of the shooting that surfaced Sunday night has prompted nightly protests in Kenosha that turned violent last night when armed white vigilantes arrived.
“Some things are bigger than basketball. The stand taken today by the players and org shows that we’re fed up,” Bucks Senior Vice President Alex Lasry tweeted. “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.”
A team from the women’s league, the Washington Mystics, arrived at its game against the Atlanta Dream on Wednesday afternoon wearing shirts that spelled out Blake’s name and had holes in the back to represent seven gunshots.
The Bucks have a personal history with police brutality. Milwaukee police officers arrested and used a Taser on Brown in January 2018. The officers confronted Brown after seeing his car parked in between two handicapped spots in a parking lot. After a verbal altercation, more officers arrived at the scene and kneeled on Brown’s neck while subduing him with a Taser.
Brown said in July that the city of Milwaukee offered to pay him $400,000 to stay quiet about the incident.
“I rejected the offer because I have a responsibility to be a voice and help change the narrative for my people,” Brown wrote in The Players’ Tribune. “In order to do so I have to tell my story, so dialogue and conversations about police brutality can help influence and change a corrupt system. It goes deeper than me just illegally parking.”
Doctors have said that Blake is paralyzed from the waist down due to the shooting, with injuries to one arm, his kidneys, liver and spinal cord. Attorneys for Blake’s family said he was trying to deescalate a domestic situation when he walked away from police and opened the driver’s side door of an SUV, in which his three young children were waiting. According to the video, one officer then shot Blake seven times in the back.
The shooting was akin to the excessive force repeatedly used by white police officers against Black people, recently against George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. Protests against police brutality and for Black lives spread throughout the nation after Floyd’s death, and are still ongoing in many places.
“We’re tired of the killings and the injustice,” Bucks point guard George Hill told The Undefeated.