Bucks go on strike for Black lives: ‘Tired of the injustice'

Another police shooting of a Black person was too much for Milwaukee Bucks players. This one hit close to home: Kenosha, Wisconsin. So the Bucks refused to take the floor for their playoff game against the Magic. Soon, the league and the players’ association announced that all three scheduled playoff games Wednesday were postponed.

Bucks players decided they couldn’t play. Not while Black pain played, over and over, on yet another graphic video showing police showing a disregard for our humanity.

"We're tired of the killings and the injustice," Bucks veteran George Hill told ESPN.

The NBA is playing in a “bubble” at Walt Disney World. There have been lots of good games. There have been no COVID-19 infections. The league and its players kept the social-justice movement visible with messages on jerseys and courts. Players put those issues at the forefront during interviews.

But reality penetrated the NBA’s bubble Sunday. That’s when social media erupted with video of Kenosha police shooting Jacob Blake in the back as he tried to enter his vehicle. Blake’s three children were in the car. A family lawyer said Blake, 29, is paralyzed.

Kenosha is about 40 miles from Milwaukee. The day after police shot Blake, Milwaukee’s NBA team beat the Magic in Game 4. Afterward, Hill voiced the concern many players had about going to Disney World while citizens were in the streets demanding justice for Black people.

“We shouldn’t have come to this damn place, to be honest,” Hill told reporters. “Coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are. But we’re here. It is what it is. We can’t do anything from right here. But definitely when it’s all settled, some things need to be done.”

It turns out Bucks players could do something by refusing to play Wednesday afternoon. Later, teams in other professional leagues joined them.

Atlanta United, citing “solidarity with the Black community,” decided not to play its match against Inter Miami in Fort Lauderdale. WNBA players, including the Atlanta Dream, didn’t play their games in Bradenton, Fla. Three MLB games were called off, including the Milwaukee Brewers vs. Cincinnati Reds.

A work stoppage won’t solve the problem of state-sanctioned violence against Black people. The players’ action won’t change the racist, indifferent attitudes underpinning systemic white supremacy. It won’t move the far-right federal government, which stymied the Justice Department’s ability to obtain and enforce court-ordered agreements to stop civil-rights abuses by local police departments.

But the Bucks’ strike made the world stop and pay attention. Opting not to play an NBA playoff game is a bigger story than taking the court as expected. It makes players in a bubble part of the bigger story outside of it: the social-justice movement spurred by the police killing of George Floyd in May.

That’s not the concrete action players have been talking about, though. It’s not clear where it goes from here. The NBA said the postponed games will be rescheduled. Three games are scheduled for Friday. Will players for those teams also go on strike?

ESPN reported that players from the Raptors and Celtics are discussing sitting out Game 1 of their series Friday. All players in the bubble were invited to a meeting Wednesday night to decide how to move forward, according to ESPN. They’ll have lots to discuss.

Do they have demands that must be met before they’ll continue to play? If so, do they direct them at the NBA’s franchise owners? Team owners have pledged $300 million to start a charitable foundation dedicated to economic empowerment in Black communities. That’s significant. But it’s obviously isn’t enough to satisfy players who are putting on a show in the bubble while putting no action behind the Black Lives Matter message written on courts.

Some players have struggled with that conflict since the NBA announced it would restart in a bubble. Players must make a living. Most of them also live as Black people in America. What’s the right thing to do when basketball is your job, but disregard for the humanity of Black people hurts your soul?

For one night, at least, Bucks players decided that the right thing to do was not take the court for a game. One of them knows firsthand about police harassment and brutality.

In January 2018, a Milwaukee police officer confronted Bucks forward Sterling Brown for illegally parking his car in an empty lot outside a Walgreens. Brown, who is Black, should have gotten a ticket at most. Instead, the officer pushed Brown and called for backup.

Several police cruisers arrived. Body-cam footage leaked months later showed police surrounding Brown, kneeling on his neck, electrocuting him with a Taser and mocking him.

The aftermath was typical. Police said Brown was aggressive. Video showed their lie: Police were aggressive and violent. The police chief apologized. Milwaukee’s mayor said: “No citizen should be treated this way.”

In December, Brown turned down a $400,000 settlement offered by the city and filed a federal civil-rights suit. Brown wrote an article for the Players’ Tribune last month explaining that he rejected the settlement because it would mean being quiet about his ordeal.

“I want more than just money,” Brown wrote. “I want cops to show respect and to be held accountable when they step out of line, especially in the neighborhoods they are supposed to serve and protect every day. If they kill a man, I want them to receive the same punishment that another guy on the street would.”

Thabo Sefolosha has a story like Brown’s. New York police officers severely injured Sefolosha during an arrest April 8, 2015, when he played for the Hawks. Current Bucks forward Kyle Korver and coach Mike Budenholzer were with the Hawks then.

Several police officers tackled Sefolosha to the ground outside of a nightclub and one hit him with a baton. Sefolosha suffered season-ending injuries leg injuries in the incident. A jury later acquitted Sefolosha of charges that included resisting arrest.

Prosecutors had offered Sefolosha plea deal. He wanted a trial to clear his name. New York City paid Sefolosha $4 million in 2017 to settle a lawsuit he filed against five police officers.

Many of the NBA’s Black players are famous millionaires. That doesn’t exempt them from the systemic racism that oppresses all Black people. The police killing of Blake, and other Black citizens before him, hurts NBA players the same way it hurts all decent people who believe in human rights for all people.

The NBA’s bubble couldn’t protect players from that reality. The Bucks decided they had to do something, so they refused to play.

About the Author