NBA playoff games called off amid player protest
By Brian Mahoney and Tim Reynolds
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — All three NBA playoff games scheduled for Wednesday have been postponed, with players around the league choosing to boycott in their strongest statement yet against racial injustice.
Called off: Games between Milwaukee and Orlando, Houston and Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland. The NBA said all three games would be rescheduled, yet did not say when.
And the reverberations quickly moved into Major League Baseball and the WNBA. The Milwaukee Brewers' home game with the Cincinnati Reds was called off, by player decision, and other MLB teams were considering similar moves. WNBA players are not playing their three regular-season games scheduled for Wednesday in Bradenton, Florida.
The dramatic series of moves began when the Bucks — the NBA’s team from Wisconsin, a state rocked in recent days by the shooting by police of Jacob Blake, a Black man — didn’t take the floor for their playoff game against the Magic. The teams were set to begin Game 5 of their series shortly after 4 p.m., with the Bucks needing a win to advance to the second round.
Players had been discussing boycotting games in the bubble after the shooting of Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Players and coaches in the bubble were invited to a meeting Wednesday to discuss how — or if — to go forward with the season.
Bucks guard Sterling Brown, who has a federal lawsuit pending against the city of Milwaukee alleging he was targeted because he was Black and that his civil rights were violated in January 2018 when officers used a stun gun on him after a parking violation, and teammate George Hill read a statement when the team emerged from its locker room nearly 3-1/2 hours after its game was to begin.
Brown called the video of Blake being shot “horrendous.”
“There has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball,” Brown said, as he and Hill were flanked by their teammates in an arena hallway.
The players did not take questions.
“We fully support our players and the decision they made," Bucks owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan said in a joint statement. “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."
Added Jeanie Buss, the Governor of the Lakers, in a tweet: “I stand behind our players, today and always. After more than 400 years of cruelty, racism and injustice, we all need to work together to say enough is enough."
There are three more playoff games scheduled Thursday. It was unclear if they would be affected. Several NBA players, including the Lakers' LeBron James, tweeted out messages demanding change and the Boston Celtics' official Twitter account did the same.
“We weren’t given advanced notice about the decision but we are happy to stand in solidarity with Milwaukee, Jacob, and the entire NBA community," Orlando guard Michael Carter-Williams said. “Change is coming.”
Magic players and referees were on the basketball court for the game but Milwaukee never took the floor. The National Basketball Referees Association said it “stands in solidarity with our players’ decision to boycott tonight’s games" and the National Basketball Players Association tweeted that the “revolution will be televised."
NBPA President Chris Paul of the Oklahoma City Thunder and guard Russell Westbrook of the Houston Rockets were seen emerging from a conversation, not long before it became known that their teams also decided to not play their scheduled game Wednesday.
“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 and its ownership group, the DeVos family, said in a statement.
Demanding societal change and ending racial injustice has been a major part of the NBA's restart at Walt Disney World. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” is painted on the arena courts, players are wearing messages urging change on their jerseys and coaches are donning pins demanding racial justice as well.
Many players wrestled for weeks about whether it was even right to play, fearing that a return to games would take attention off the deaths of, among others, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in recent months.
Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was fatally shot when police officers burst into her Louisville, Kentucky apartment using a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation on March 13. The warrant was in connection with a suspect who did not live there and no drugs were found. Then on May 25, Floyd died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into the Black man’s neck for nearly eight minutes — all captured on a cell phone video.
Hill said after Blake's shooting that he felt players shouldn't have come to Disney.
“We’re the ones getting killed," Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who is Black, said in an emotional postgame speech Tuesday night. “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. It’s amazing why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back. And it’s just, it’s really so sad."
The Celtics and Toronto Raptors met Tuesday to discuss boycotting Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, which had been scheduled for Thursday. NBPA members were part of those meetings, and Miami forward Andre Iguodala — a union officer — said around 2:15 p.m. that he did not believe a boycott plan had been finalized.
Less than two hours later, the Bucks wouldn't take the floor.
“When you talk about boycotting a game, everyone’s antenna goes up," Iguodala said. “It’s sad you have to make threats like that — I wouldn’t say threats — but you have to be willing to sacrifice corporate money for people to realize there’s a big problem out there.”
Professional sports has seen both strikes and lockouts in the past, almost always over salary disputes. But this wouldn't seem to classify as a strike, even though it was initiated by players, since their dispute is not with the NBA. Boycott, meanwhile, is defined as the act of refusing to engage in an action, usually to express disapproval with some condition.
Reynolds reported from Miami.