As Wisconsin reels from protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, in front of his young children in the city of Kenosha, the Milwaukee Bucks are making sure their fans know that they stand with the demonstrators calling for social change.
Rather than take the court for Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic — a possible closeout game for Milwaukee — the Bucks players spent Wednesday afternoon ensconced in their team locker room, prompting a flurry of panicked NBA officials to reportedly pace outside the locked doors in an attempt to gain control of the situation. Eventually, the team confirmed they were, indeed, boycotting the game.
The decision to boycott the game came as the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics have also reportedly discussed boycotting Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup, which is scheduled for Thursday. NBA players have been outspoken about the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests that have spread across the country since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. Some, notably, were wary of the season restarting in Orlando for fear of distracting from the mission of social change.
Speaking with reporters Monday, Bucks guard George Hill foreshadowed Wednesday's boycott, highlighting his disappointment at the ongoing police violence against Black communities after news broke of the shooting of Blake. Kenosha, the Wisconsin city where Blake was shot, is about 40 miles south of Milwaukee.
"Until the world gets their shit together, I guess we're not gonna get our stuff together," Hill told assembled reporters.
"We shouldn't have even came to this damn place, to be honest," he added later, referring to the so-called "bubble" in Orlando. "I think coming here took all the focal points off what the issues are."
The sentiment was echoed by Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, who seemed visibly upset while describing the "great challenge" of playing a basketball game so near to another incident of police violence.
Hill and Budenholzer are among the many NBA figures who have spoken out in recent days, prompted by Blake's shooting. LeBron James — arguably the league's largest star — did not mince words when discussing the incident, and what it means to him as a Black person.
"We are scared as Black people in America," James said after his Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers earlier this week to take a commanding 3-1 lead in their first-round series. Rather than be happy about his team's victory, James used his post-game interviews to talk about Blake. "Black men, Black women, Black kids, we're terrified," he said.
The Bucks are strong contenders for the NBA championship this year, while their star Giannis Antetokounmpo is the league's reigning MVP. He's also the newly minted Defensive Player of the Year, underscoring his and his team's importance to the NBA. After the news of the Bucks' boycott broke, The Athletic reported that the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets would be boycotting Game 5 of their first-round matchup, as would the Lakers and Blazers, both of which were also scheduled for Wednesday. The league later confirmed all Wednesday games had been postponed, though it did say all three games would be rescheduled.
Some teams have reportedly discussed leaving Orlando altogether. As Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix noted: "Question is no longer if players are prepared to boycott one game — that’s happened. It’s how many they will."