Yesterday, August 26, started off as just another day in the NBA playoffs bubble. Three games were ready to roll—Milwaukee vs. Orlando, Houston vs. Oklahoma City, and L.A. Lakers vs. Portland. By the end of the day, all three games were postponed. As the evening wore on, several WNBA (women's basketball) and MLS (soccer) clubs did the same, as well as six MLB (baseball) teams.
These postponements were all done in protest of police brutality and in support of racial justice.
The Bucks lead
The movement was led by the Milwaukee Bucks, who hold a unique position in this situation. Their team is based in the state of Wisconsin. Last Sunday in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, a Black man named Jacob Blake was shot by police officers and left paralyzed. The incident was captured on video and it renewed strong debate across the country and beyond about the problem of police violence and systemic racism.
By Wednesday, continuous protests in Kenosha had not yet resulted in any of the police officers being arrested or charged with a crime. The players on the Bucks jointly decided that they could not continue to play as though nothing was wrong. So they forfeited, or gave up, the day's game. Here is a team statement being read by players Sterling Brown and George Hill.
Full statement from the Milwaukee Bucks: pic.twitter.com/jjGEyVcCmB
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) August 26, 2020
At this point, the Bucks' opponents—the Orlando Magic—could have technically accepted Milwaukee's forfeiture and claimed victory in the scheduled match. But they did not. Instead, they joined the protest. As did the four other teams scheduled to play.
One of the features of our very connected world, is that news travels very quickly over the internet. By early evening, all of the night's WNBA and MLS matches were also postponed by the players. And three MLB games—including the Milwaukee Brewers vs. the Cincinnati Reds—were also stopped.
Outside of the NHL (hockey) and some MLB games, pro sports in North America ground to a halt.
Protests in sports against racial injustice have happened before.
At the 1968 Mexico Olympics, Black athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos famously raised their fists in protest of police brutality at the medal ceremony of their 200-metre sprint event. Outspoken boxing legend Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War (the draft called upon a larger percentage of Black men than white ones)—he did this knowing he risked being jailed and would not be able to box. And exactly four years ago yesterday, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick also put his career on the line by kneeling in protest during the national anthem.
But a protest like this—with dozens of full teams, across several sports, all walking out at once? This is something new. And it may not be a one-off either.
Last night, all of the teams remaining in the NBA's playoff bubble held an emergency meeting about what to do next. Reports say that the meeting ended abruptly when players on both the Lakers (featuring superstar LeBron James) and L.A. Clippers voted to end the entire season immediately and then left.
Today, the NBA Board of Governors is meeting to discuss player concerns. Elsewhere, pro tennis is suspending play until Friday and reports say that NHL and MLB players are also discussing options. In other words, this moment of protest is still happening and evolving as we speak.
And with a full schedule of games still technically set to go today—including what is supposed to be the start of the Raptors/Celtics series—we're going to find out what's next pretty quickly.
UPDATE: As of about noon EST today (Thursday), the NBA announced that players have decided to return to play. But all of Thursday's matches are also being postponed. After last night's players meeting ended, the athletes continued to debate the issues remotely deep into the night. They then came together again this morning, where this decision was made. The NBA will decide exactly when to restart games based on further meetings.