NBA Boycott

What kind of person do you want to be?

Jim Rome
August 27, 2020 - 9:13 am
 Black Lives Matter

USA Today

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Yesterday was unlike anything we have ever seen in North American sports. Maybe it’s happened in other countries, but we have never seen anything here, like what took place yesterday.

The Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic were due to tip off Game 5 of their series shortly after 4pm Eastern. The Bucks went through their usual pre-game work well before the game. Then, when it was time for warmups before the game, the Magic came out and warmed up, but the Bucks did not come out of their locker room.

As the clock ticked down to the start of the game, the Bucks still were not on the floor. The Magic ended up leaving the floor and then it became official. The Bucks were not going to play as a protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The camera shots of the empty Bucks bench on the floor and the closed door to their locker room were surreal. There has never been anything like this in NBA history – a team deciding not to play in protest of social injustice. And it is so incredibly powerful.

And that was just the start.

Milwaukee’s decision not to play technically made the game a forfeit, but the Magic refused to accept the forfeit.

The Rockets and Thunder were due to play their game after the Bucks. Then there was footage of Houston’s Russell Westbrook and OKC’s Chris Paul coming out of a side room together, apparently after meeting.

Shortly thereafter, reports emerged that Houston and OKC would not be playing their game. And shortly after that, reports that the Lakers and Blazers would not be playing either.

The league announced that all three games from yesterday’s slate of playoff games were postponed. But don’t get this twisted – this was not a league decision, this was a player decision. This was a statement from the players that they were not going to play. The league was just confirming it. This was player led, it was a statement of player power.

Orlando eventually left the arena and the Bucks remained in their locker room. What they did while they were in the locker room is significant and I particularly want you to hear it if you are one of those people whose saying, yeah, so what, what can these players accomplish? This is just showing off or virtue signaling. They should just shut up and dribble.

Because the Bucks were ACTUALLY DOING, was calling the attorney general and lieutenant governor of Wisconsin to discuss Jacob Blake and the next steps.

As Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes told ESPN: "They just wanted to know what they could do. They were very interested in a call to action. They wanted something tangible that they could do in the short and long term. They wanted the walkout to be Step 1."

Orlando eventually left the arena. Hours later, the Bucks emerged from their locker room and led by George Hill and Sterling Brown, made the following statement.

That is powerful. That is standing up. That is being accountable. That is putting your name on it. 

Imagine the emotions these players are feeling when they take a step like this. Imagine how they are feeling, away from their families, away from the people they love, and feeling that they are in a bubble and can’t make a difference.

They know what they are putting on the line. They know the backlash they will face from some people out there. They know the names they’ll be called. They know they will be called selfish or self-centered. They know that some dopes will say they’re disrespectful. Or stupid. Or that they hate America. Or that this is the wrong way to protest. Or that they are just rich guys who are virtue signaling. They know all that.

And they did it anyway. Which is what makes it so powerful. 

Over the course of this week, I’ve been playing clips from players and coaches talking about their emotions in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake. You’ve heard from members of the Lakers and from Doc Rivers.

I’m doing it because it is absolutely vital that we hear what they are saying. I’m doing it because that was part of the deal, either spoken or unspoken, about the bubble. Everyone was told that playing meant that players and coaches would have a platform to enact change.

I’m going to play two more right now and it turns out that both are former players. First, here’s Chris Webber. Listen to him. Hear him. And hear the exhaustion in his voice.

Now listen to Robert Horry, listen to him describe his experience as a father and the fear that he lives with.  

The NBA players in the bubble are fathers, they are sons, they are brothers, and uncles, and cousins, and friends. But…Before they were NBA players, they were black men. When they aren’t on the court, they are black men.

And to those of you who want to keep politics out of sports or say that you come to sports to avoid something like this that is a luxury. Because you cannot keep race out of America.

In my experience, the vast majority of people who say they want to keep politics and race out of sports, or that they don’t see color, are white. I’m white too. You and I have the freedom to fool ourselves and act like race doesn’t matter, but if you aren’t white, you don’t get that option.

As one player after another has said, they are black when they play basketball and they are black when they don’t play basketball. They do not get the choice to keep race out of things. Sterling Brown of the Bucks was assaulted by police in 2018. Thabo Sefolosha had his leg broken by the police in 2015. Countless players have stories of being pulled over for driving while black.

I am proud of the players for doing this. I’ll get into this more later, but if you’re more pissed off by no NBA games yesterday than you are by another black man being shot by police, it’s time to take a look at your priorities. What kind of a society do you want to live in? What kind of person do you want to be. And what kind of society do you want to live in?  Because the one we’re living in isn’t good enough. 

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