LAKE BUENA VISTA — All three NBA playoff games scheduled for Wednesday have been postponed, with players 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 league said all three games would be rescheduled but did not say when.
The dramatic series of moves began when the Bucks — the NBA’s team from Wisconsin, a state rocked in recent days after the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by police officers — 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 by police in Kenosha, Wis. More discussions among players on teams still in the bubble were scheduled Wednesday, presumably on how — or if — to go forward, but even before that the Bucks apparently decided they would act.
“Some things are bigger than basketball,” Bucks senior vice president Alex Lasry tweeted. “The stand taken today by the players and (the organization) 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.”
There are three other 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. Eventually everyone else left and the arena staff soon took the balls, towels and tags that go on player chairs back inside.
National Basketball Players Association 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.
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“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, Ky., apartment using a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation in March. 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 nine minutes — all captured on a cellphone video.
Bucks guard George Hill said after Blake’s shooting that he felt players should not 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 after his team’s win 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 Raptors met Tuesday to discuss boycotting Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, which had been scheduled for Thursday. Members of the players union were also part of those meetings, and Heat veteran 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.”
The postponed NBA games came on the fourth anniversary of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s very first protest of the national anthem before an NFL preseason game. Kaepernick sat through the anthem for his first protest, which he said was to protest racial inequality and police mistreatment of minorities. He then famously kneeled during the anthem going forward.
The players’ thinking, as outlined by Celtics All-Star Jayson Tatum recently, 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.”
By BRIAN MAHONEY and TIM REYNOLDS
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