NBA Playoffs Postponed Following Bucks Strike

George Floyd. Elijah McClain. Breonna Taylor. Tennis player Naomi Osaka has shown solidarity to the Black Lives Matter movement by wearing facemasks with the names of victims of police brutality to her matches. After withdrawing from her semi-final match in the Western and Southern Open, she wrote on her Instagram, “As a black woman, I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis.”

Major sports events across the country were halted after the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted its first-round NBA playoff game on August 26. The team’s action set off a chain of events that led sports associations to postpone over 20 professional games and athletes from all over the world speak out to protest systemic racism and recent police shootings.

This new wave of athlete activism originated from the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on August 23. A police officer shot Blake seven times in the back as he attempted to enter his car where his three children sat, provoking national outrage. Blake is currently paralyzed from the waist down.

Previously, when the NBA returned after the coronavirus hiatus, various players used their platform to speak out about similar issues of racial equity and police violence. Many athletes sported jerseys emblazoned with slogans such as “I Can’t Breathe” and “Equality” during games, while other players dedicated their post-match interviews to victims of police brutality. The NBA painted the words “Black Lives Matter” on all the courts in the Orlando bubble and contributed an initial $300 million towards the creation of the new NBA Foundation. In an official press release, the NBA Board of Governors announced that the new foundation would be “dedicated to creating greater economic empowerment in the Black community.”

With their decision to refuse to take to the court, however, the Bucks sparked a much more significant ripple effect throughout major sports leagues. The NBA postponed the remaining playoff games on August 26 and 27, and the WNBA followed suit, rescheduling six games for later dates. The MLS and MLB also called off multiple games. 

Following their strike, the Bucks put out a statement outlining the change that they wished to see from lawmakers and the police, calling on the Wisconsin legislature to return to session and vote on a new packet of bills. The statement read, “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.” 

Despite the call for action, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature convened and then recessed after just 30 seconds on August 31. Legislators fulfilled the time span of a meeting as required by law, but ultimately rejected the newly introduced package of laws on police accountability and excessive use of force. Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer shared his disappointment in an Associated Press interview: “At the end of the day, it feels like there’s work to be done, and they’re not doing it.

The NBA playoffs resumed on August 29 after much deliberation by the players. Many athletes expressed that their desire to continue the playoffs stemmed from the NBA’s ability as a platform to bring about social justice and reform. Langston Harris ’21 said, “I think the protests showed [the NBA players’] ability to make a statement as black men [who] also happen to be pro athletes, even in the midst of a pandemic and in the Orlando Bubble. The NBA has consistently been a league where the players have the ability to speak out and speak up for what they believe in, and I think that’s important.”