NBA walkout sparks historic US sport boycott over police shooting

An empty court following the scheduled start between the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida on 26 August 2020.


An empty court following the scheduled start between the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida on 26 August 2020.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Milwaukee Bucks led a historic sporting boycott on Wednesday over
the US police shooting of a black man, forcing the NBA to halt its
playoff schedule and prompting a wave of walkouts across multiple
sports.

The NBA postponed its entire slate of Wednesday fixtures after the
Bucks refused to play game five of their Eastern Conference first-round
series against the Orlando Magic in protest over the shooting of
African-American man Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Sunday.

Blake was seriously injured after being shot point blank in the back
seven times by police officers in a confrontation captured on video.

“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,” the Bucks players said in a statement explaining their
boycott.

“Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.”

The Bucks’ no-show prompted the NBA to scrap two other games
scheduled for Wednesday: Houston’s clash with Oklahoma City Thunder and
the Los Angeles Lakers’ match-up with the Portland Trail Blazers.

At an emergency meeting of NBA teams in Florida late Wednesday, the
crisis threatened to put the entire season in jeopardy, with LeBron
James’ Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers both voting to
abandon the season. All other teams voted to continue.

It was not immediately clear whether the Lakers and Clippers would continue the season as scheduled. 

A walkout by two of the NBA’s strongest teams and title contenders —
as well as its biggest star — would deal a devastating blow to the
credibility of the season. The NBA’s Board of Governors is meeting on
Thursday to address player concerns.

Boycotts spread

The boycotts spread to
other sports, with the Milwaukee Brewers’ game against the Cincinnati
Reds becoming one of several Major League Baseball games to be
postponed.

In tennis, two-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka abruptly
announced her withdrawal from the WTA Western & Southern Open
semi-finals, where she was due to play on Thursday.

“As a black woman I feel as though there are much more important
matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me
play tennis,” Osaka said.

In a statement released late on Wednesday, ATP/WTA organisers said all
play scheduled for Thursday had been postponed
in recognition of the
fight against racial inequality.

Elsewhere, the Women’s NBA postponed its scheduled fixtures for
Wednesday, while Major League Soccer also called off five of six games.

Dramatic escalation

The NBA postponements
marked a dramatic escalation in the league’s calls for social justice,
which have reverberated across the sport in the months since the killing
of unarmed black man George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May.

Lakers superstar James voiced solidarity with the Bucks decision in a tweet shortly after the boycott was announced. 

“WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT,” James wrote.

The NBA’s players union also backed the protest. 

“The players have, once again, made it clear – they will not be
silent on this issue,” National Basketball Players Association executive
director Michele Roberts said in a statement.

Renewed anger had swept the NBA after Sunday’s shooting of Blake.

The 29-year-old was shot repeatedly in the back as he attempted to get into his car, which contained his three children.

Protests have erupted in Kenosha since the shooting, with two people
killed after a teenager opened fire on demonstrators with an assault
rifle on Tuesday.

‘Horrifying, maddening’

The NBA’s
coronavirus-halted season resumed last month in Orlando against the
backdrop of nationwide protests following Floyd’s death.

NBA teams have knelt in protest during the pre-match playing of the
US national anthem, while the words “Black Lives Matter” have been
painted onto each court staging games in Florida.

Players, many of whom took part in protests against Floyd’s killing,
have been allowed to wear jerseys bearing social justice messages.

The first hints of boycotts over Blake’s shooting came from Toronto
Raptors coach Nick Nurse, who revealed that his players had discussed
refusing to play their game with Boston on Thursday.

Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens described Blake’s shooting as “horrifying.”

“Our thoughts are with Jacob Blake and his family and obviously that
video was horrifying, awful,” Stevens said. “To think of three kids
being in that car, it’s ridiculous.

“These are hard times. With the pandemic going on, with this constant wave of inequality – it’s maddening.”

The Los Angeles Clippers African-American coach Doc Rivers contrasted
the latest shooting with the apocalyptic rhetoric at this week’s
Republican Party convention.

“All you hear is Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear,” Rivers said in remarks on Tuesday.

“We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that are denied to live in certain communities.

“We’ve been hung, we’ve been shot. All you do is keep hearing about
fear. It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country and this
country does not love us back.”

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