Earlier this week, three NBA playoff games were scheduled for Wednesday night. None of them were played. Following the horrific shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, all six teams chose to boycott in protest. First the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic boycotted, and the other four teams followed. This has never happened before. The Clippers once considered a boycott to protest their previous owner, but it never materialized. What happened Wednesday was historic and unprecedented.
Looking at the stand from these NBA teams, it raises many questions about the role of the athlete, which has long been questioned in society. We wonder what their civic duties and obligations are to us who watch, to those who do not share their status or wealth. They are celebrities in their own right, often living lives very unlike most U.S. citizens. Does their perspective matter, or should they simply fulfill their employment obligations? As fellow staff writer Timothy Thomas shares, “We demand the excellence of athletes to satisfy our appetite for entertainment so we can be awe-inspired of all that the human body can effectuate—as long as those bodies don’t remind us that we exist in a land of gross inequities in regard to human life.”The fight for Black lives is more important than money, and the players choosing to boycott for the first time in the league’s history is proof of that.
In addition, the NBA is comprised of about 80% Black players. So as Black men and women are murdered by police on what feels like a regular basis, NBA players have started to call for change, using their social power to do so. In the past, they’ve worn shirts with the words “I can’t breathe” on them following the death of Eric Garner. Players have knelt during the anthem. And there was even a consideration to not bring back basketball this summer at all, to instead focus on social justice work. The players met Wednesday night to decide whether or not they would resume the season, and ultimately they voted yes. (The fact that they are even having these conversations is a big deal.) While sitting out their game, Bucks players spent the time off the court to call local officials, congressmen, and community leaders to find out what needs to be done to bring change.
The players know if they voluntarily stop working, it will cost them millions of dollars. The team owners could even rip up the current collective bargaining agreement and vote to replace it with one that is more favorable to them. Many of the players have told stories about how being rich and famous has not shielded them from discrimination or given them a feeling of safety in this world. When they see someone like Jacob Blake get shot in the back seven times, they understand that it can just as easily be one of them, or their brothers, or their sons. The fight for Black lives is more important than money, and the players choosing to boycott for the first time in the league’s history is proof of that.
On top of this, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed several protesters in Kenosha. Kyle, who is white, was allowed to walk away from this horrific act and ultimately turned himself in. The way this unfolded is cited as the very picture of inequality by the players as well as many Black people and non-POCs who stand in solidarity with Black people. And because this incident happened in Wisconsin, the home state of the Bucks, the team has demanded the Wisconsin legislature reconvene and address the systemic problems at hand. They believe, like so many others, now is the time for the change.
While play will resume Saturday, it will be done on a court that has Black Lives Matter painted across it and with statements about social justice on the back of player jerseys. The players strongly believed they needed to do more this week, even during playoffs, and they still want to do more. They have been willing to put their livelihoods on the line to seek the change this world desperately needs. And to me, that looks a whole lot like the sacrificial love that Jesus spoke of and called us all to demonstrate.