They’re not shutting up. They’re not dribbling, either.
They’re shutting it down. They’re fighting for their lives. Their only weapon is denying the masses entertainment. They used it.
Will they keep using it? Is that the best strategy?
It worked Wednesday, when NBA players made history and forced the league to postpone the three scheduled playoff games. Remember this day, when jocks went on strike to end systemic injustice and four centuries of genocide. LeBron James, the most significant athlete in America, issued a tweet at 4:37 p.m. Wednesday that crystallized the players’ anger and frustration:
“F*** THIS MAN! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT.”
They are sick of the terror they feel for themselves and their children and their brothers and sisters whenever they see police lights in their rearview mirrors and whenever they hear a siren on their street. They’re sick of thinking, every time they see a cop: “Is it my time? Will they kill me next?”
So, three days after the latest police shooting of a young Black man, the most famous young Black men on the planet boycotted NBA playoff games. Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, a Black man from Greece, plays for Milwaukee, a city 40 miles north of Kenosha, Wis. That’s where, on Sunday evening, Jacob Blake, 29, apparently unarmed, was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer. It happened in front of Blake’s three children, who sat in the minivan Blake was trying to enter.
What happened to Blake was every Black NBA player’s nightmare.
The thing is, after months of protest and weeks of political promises, it keeps happening: in Minneapolis, where we saw a knee on the neck of George Floyd for 9 minutes; in Atlanta, with bullets in the back of Rayshard Brooks; New York City, where a chokehold extinguished Eric Garner. In 2014, he couldn’t breathe. Now, they won’t play.
The situation did not improve. As Blake lay paralyzed but in stable condition Tuesday night, a white teen vigilante from Illinois allegedly shot three protesters in Kenosha. Two died.
The pressure built. And the bubble burst.
The Greek Freak had seen enough. He and the Bucks refused to emerge for their 4 p.m. start against the Orlando Magic. Within the hour James, whose Lakers were slated to play the Blazers, had led his team to boycott, too. So had Chris Paul, the president of the National Basketball Players Association and the point guard of the Oklahoma City Thunder, whose team was scheduled to play the Rockets between the Bucks’ game and the Lakers’.
The sentiment spread like a protest should. Back in Milwaukee, Brewers players decided to postpone their game with the Reds, who agreed. Seattle and San Diego followed suit, as did the Giants and Dodgers. Earlier in the day, the Detroit Lions canceled practice in deference to the Blake incident. Five of six MLS games were postponed, as were all three WNBA games, where the most chilling image of the day surfaced:
After a symbolic national anthem played, the Washington Mystics -- the catalysts behind the WNBA boycott -- knelt in a moment of silence in white T-shirts with seven bloody bullet holes on the backs.
By then, individual NBA players were considering leaving the NBA bubble outside of Orlando, Fla., for good.
By then, the NBA had scrambled to announce that the evening’s games had been “postponed,” praying those postponements didn’t turn into cancellations. The NBA players scheduled a meeting for 8 p.m. Wednesday night. The topic:
Should they stay, and continue to use their platform to reinforce the #BlackLivesMatter message that cost Colin Kaepernick his NFL career? They’re already wearing messages on their jerseys during these bubble games, and they’re playing on a Black Lives Matter court.
Should they leave, forfeiting money and glory and greater fame, and send the most significant civil rights message in the history of American sports?
This storm was long brewing.
Earlier on Wednesday, Pascal Siakam and Jayson Tatum, the best players on the Raptors and Celtics, respectively, publicly discussed the possibility of the teams’ boycotting Thursday’s Game 1 of their second-round series.
Before anyone entered the bubble, stars Kyrie Irving and Dwight Howard questioned the appropriateness of resuming the season that was shut down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, after the killings of Floyd, Brooks, and Breonna Taylor.
Irving and others have claimed that they are willing to sacrifice their careers in the pursuit of social justice. They have marched, and donated, and advocated. Now, more than ever, they’re putting their money where their mouths are.
Racists told them to shut up and dribble.
Now, they’ve taken their balls and gone home.