By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO
What began as an NBA triple-header turned into a nationwide movement in sports due to ongoing racial injustice at the hands of law enforcement.
What led to the sweeping wave of solidarity between hundreds of athletes over the past few days was the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man residing in Kenosha, Wis.
According to attorney Benjamin Crump, the 29-year-old was breaking up a physical altercation that resulted in Kenosha police being called for a domestic incident. As Blake walked back to his car, where his three children were, police shot him in the back seven times as he opened his car door.
The incident, which occurred on the evening of Aug. 23, sparked social unrest in the state of Wisconsin.
The NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks were the first team to boycott their scheduled first-round playoff game against the Orlando Magic on Aug. 26. The organization released a statement calling the footage of Blake’s shooting “horrendous,” and demanding the Wisconsin State Legislature to apply meaningful measures to address matters of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform.
“Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball,” the team statement went on to say “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.”
In addition to postponing the game between the Bucks and the Magic, scheduled playoffs matchups between the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trailblazers, and the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder were held off as players and coaches throughout the NBA stood in solidarity with the Bucks.
Likewise, games slated on Aug. 27 between the LA Clippers and Mavericks, Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, and Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors were postponed.
“If you watch the video, there was multiple moments where if they (police) wanted to, they could have tackled him (Blake), they could have grabbed him… why does it always have to get to a point where we see the guns firing?,” Lakers forward LeBron James said in a recent interview.
“I know people get tired of hearing me say it but we are scared as Black people in America. Black men, Black women, Black kids – we are terrified.”
The decision by NBA players to put their playoff schedule on hold prompted athletes from other professional sports leagues, including the WNBA, MLB and MLS to opt out of competition. Tennis star Naomi Osaka also announced she would not compete in her semifinal match at the Cincinnati Open on Aug. 27 in protest of the Blake shooting.
The Washington Mystics of the WNBA had the words “JACOB BLAKE” written in all caps on white t-shirts that they wore with illustrations of seven bullet holes on their backs, standing in unity with their NBA counterparts.
“This isn’t just about basketball. We aren’t just basketball players, and just because we are basketball players doesn’t mean that’s our only platform,” said Ariel Atkins, a guard for the Mystics. “If we do this unified as a league, it looks different because this league is close to, if not over, 80 percent Black women.”
Doc Rivers, head coach of the Clippers, became emotional in addressing the racial tension and atrocities that Black people have faced for centuries. “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back,” he said. “We’re the ones having to talk to every Black child. What White father has to give his son a talk about being careful if you get pulled over?”
According to a statement by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, league executives, players and coaches had a productive discussion on Aug. 27 “regarding next steps to further our collective efforts and actions in support of social justice and racial equality.”
How the NBA will move forward as it relates to the timing of games is still being mapped out, but the 13 teams remaining in the Orlando bubble will hold practices Aug. 28 and are expected to resume playoff competition this weekend.