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NBA postpones playoff games after the Milwaukee Bucks boycott in response to the Jacob Blake

The NBA has postponed the remainder of Wednesday’s playoff games after the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their matchup with the Orlando Magic in response to the shooting of African-American man Jacob Blake by Kenosha, Wisconsin police on Sunday. 

‘The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association today announced that in light of the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to not take the floor today for Game 5 against the Orlando Magic, today’s three games – Bucks vs. Magic, Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers – have been postponed,’ read a league statement. ‘Game 5 of each series will be rescheduled.’   

The Bucks and Magic were set to begin Game 5 of their series shortly after 4 pm, with Milwaukee needing a win to advance to the second round. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski was the first to report the news. 

The Milwaukee Bucks stood and read a statement saying they were ‘calling for justice for Jacob Blake, and demand the officers be held responsible.’

Wednesday’s NBA protests spilled over into Major League Baseball, where another Wisconsin team, the Milwaukee Brewers, agreed with Cincinnati Reds players to boycott their evening game, according to multiple reports. 

The WNBA also suspended play on Wednesday in response to the shooting.  

The NBA players who remain in the bubble will have a meeting at 8pm EST to discuss further steps. The discussion should go a long way towards deciding the season’s future, according to ESPN. 

‘The season is in jeopardy,’ one veteran told ESPN.  

There are three other playoff games scheduled Thursday. It was unclear if they would be affected. Several NBA players, including LeBron James, tweeted out messages demanding change and the Boston Celtics’ official Twitter account did the same. 

‘F*** THIS MAN!!!!’ James tweeted. ‘WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.’

‘We’re tired of the killings and the injustice,’ Milwaukee guard George Hill told The Undefeated of the Bucks’ decision.

Blake was shot seven times in the back on Sunday in Kenosha, which is a 45-minute drive south of Milwaukee. The 29-year-old father of three is paralyzed from the waist down and is unlikely to walk again, according to the family attorney.   

Magic player and referees were on the basketball court for the game but Milwaukee never took the floor. Eventually everyone else left and the arena staff soon took the balls, towels and tags that go on player chairs back inside.

The Bucks were reportedly attempting to reach Wisconsin attorney general Josh Kaul from the team locker room, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. 

Demanding societal change and ending racial injustice has been a major part of the NBA’s restart at Walt Disney World. The phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ is painted on the arena courts, players are wearing messages urging change on their jerseys and coaches are donning pins demanding racial justice as well.

‘We’re the ones getting killed,’ Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who is Black, said in an emotional postgame speech Tuesday night. ‘We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that we’re denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. And all you do is keep hearing about fear. It’s amazing why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back. And it’s just, it’s really so sad.’

The Celtics and Toronto Raptors met Tuesday to discuss boycotting Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, which had been scheduled for Thursday. Members of the National Basketball Players Association were also part of those meetings, and Miami forward Andre Iguodala – a union officer – said around 2:15 p.m. that he did not believe a boycott plan had been finalized.

Less than two hours later, the Bucks wouldn’t take the floor. And it all happened on the fourth anniversary of Colin Kaepernick’s very first protest of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ before an NFL preseason game.   

‘Some things are bigger than basketball,’ Bucks senior vice president Alex Lasry tweeted. ‘The stand taken today by the players and (the organization) shows that we’re fed up. Enough is enough. Change needs to happen. I’m incredibly proud of our guys and we stand 100% behind our players ready to assist and bring about real change.’ 

The boycotts were somewhat expected following the Blake shooting. 

As the NBA sought to resume the season at Disney World near Orlando, players had to weigh whether playing basketball aided or distracted from their calls for social justice reform. 

Those discussions are starting again.

With the second round of the postseason set to begin Thursday when Toronto plays Boston, players from both teams have said there have been discussions about whether they should boycott games, just as Milwaukee did with its first-round, Game 5 matchup with Orlando on Wednesday. (The Bucks hold a 3-1 series lead)  

Players and coaches around the league say they have been frustrated and are upset after seeing cellphone video that showed Blake being shot multiple times after they have spent a month and a half in the bubble calling for reform.

‘But it’s not working, so obviously something has to be done and right now our focus really shouldn’t be on basketball,’ Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. ‘I understand it’s the playoffs and everything like that but we still have a bigger issue, an underlying issue that’s going on and the things that we’ve tried haven’t been working.

‘So we definitely need to take a different approach and we need to try new things out to try to get this thing working the way that we know it should and get our voices heard even more.’

They’ve certainly been trying. 

At Disney, players have walked onto a basketball court lined with the words Black Lives Matter, went to a knee for the playing of the national anthem, and afterward used interviews to call for justice for Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician who was shot eight times in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 13 by plainclothes officers serving a narcotics search warrant without knocking at her apartment. No drugs were found.

In the early weeks at Disney, players felt their message was getting out when anger over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police was still so fresh. But lately, having moved into the playoffs, the conversations had largely shifted toward basketball.

Now with Blake’s shooting coming so soon after the start of the playoffs, Toronto guard Fred VanVleet said it was hard to get excited about the second-round matchup with Boston – if they decide to play it.

‘Coming down here, making the choice to play was not supposed to be in vain but it’s starting to feel like everything we’re doing is just going through the motions and nothing’s really changing,’ VanVleet said, ‘and here we are again with another unfortunate incident.’

On Monday, Hill said players shouldn’t even have come to the bubble because it took focus off the racial injustice issues, where they wanted the attention to be.

Some players, including James, wouldn’t comment on Hill’s thoughts. But they understand the frustration of not being able to join protesters or activist groups in their communities.

‘I’ll be honest, I don’t think there’s anything we can do here that’s going to stop what’s happening across this country, with the latest example being Kenosha,’ Denver coach Michael Malone said. ‘I saw George Hill say in his press conference, why are we even here? Why are we doing this? By being here we’re isolated and can’t help where maybe we need to help. It’s frustrating for a lot of players, a lot of coaches to be here.’

Toronto’s Normal Powell wondered if the images that TV viewers are seeing from the bubble, such as players wearing Black Lives Matter warmup shirts, have become so familiar that that aren’t resonating anymore.

‘It’s starting to get washed out,’ he said.

Players are trying to figure out not only how to revive them, but keep them going long after they leave the bubble. James has focused on the need to vote, not only in November but long after, no matter who wins the presidential election.

But voting comes later. Players want actions they can do now.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown marched with protesters in Atlanta. He said being in the bubble gives a feeling of helplessness, because he isn’t able to do that again.

‘I do think the NBA has done a great job – initially – to kind of give us the platform to speak on certain things and things like that, but I do kind of do feel like it is kind of lessened as the playoffs have gotten started,’ Brown said.

‘Things have kind of diminished. I’m curious to see in what creative ways that people put their minds together to continue to push these conversations and make me feel more comfortable about playing basketball in the middle of like a lot of things that are going on.’ 

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