NBA, WNBA reach apex of social justice push

John Lewis would be proud. Dr. John Carlos and Dr. Tommie Smith are probably somewhere smiling. The memories of Authur Ashe protesting against apartheid lives on. Justice is on its way. In the eyes of some of today’s top sports figures, if there’s no justice,  don’t bother about being entertained.

For Jacob Blake. For Breonna Taylor. For George Floyd. The stakes for social justice messaging just a lot louder. Life is bigger than sports. However, sports have always been a vacuum of social movement in America. 

 And for months, players from the NBA and WNBA have said that they would the bubble format in which they are playing and housed at Walt Disney World as a platform to advance social justice messaging. 

That messaged was amplified perhaps a thousand times over when the Milwaukee Bucks decided to boycott their Game 5 playoff game against the Orlando Magic. The snowball continued when the WNBA postponed all three of its games on the schedule. Then the capper came when both the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers voted to boycott the rest of the season. 

It was a bold move of the “good trouble,” Lewis, the longtime civil rights activist and House of Representative member who passed away in July, would often encourage to force change. If change is to come when it comes to having police reform addressed and reducing structural and systemic racism in this country, perhaps the influential power of sports, especially in the NBA and WNBA, the leagues could be leading the way on this front.   

While there is no mention of a boycott by players, the Lakers issued a statement supporting their players and what they are trying to accomplish.  

“We stand with our players and the players of the NBA in their demand for justice and the end of racial violence,” the statement read. “Eighty percent of NBA players are Black men. We cannot love them for the joy and entertainment that they bring to the world, yet sit in silence and fail to use our platforms and resources to amplify their voices when they demand the justice and equality that America has promised us all, but denied Black people for too long. In 2020 alone, we have been made to bear witness to the killings of numerous unarmed Black men and women at the hands of the police, as well as private “vigilantes.” Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and now Jacob Blake. We must continue to say their names. But now is also the time for us to say enough. We stand with our players and the players of the NBA in their demand for justice and the end of racial violence.”  

The anger does not end with the shooting of Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A white teenager was arrested and charged with intentional homicide in a shooting that left two protesters dead. 

A video, captured by CNN, shows 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who was arrested in Antioch, Illinois, walking down the street past police wearing a long weapon strapped around his neck without any stoppage or interference. The implicit racism is stunning.   

Before the Blake shooting, 46-year-old Floyd lost his life while lying on a Minneapolis, Minnesota street as former police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. The killing of the 26-year-old Taylor on March 13 was even more egregious. 

PALMETTO, FL- AUGUST 23: Kayla Thornton #6 of the Dallas Wings plays defense against the Los Angeles Sparks on August 23, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.

An emergency medical technician, Taylor was shot eight times by police in Louisville, Kentucky using a no-knock warrant to execute a raid on her home. There have not been any arrests made or people charged in Taylor’s death. And there are many others. Shut up and dribble? Players from the Bucks organization don’t think so as they issued a statement to address the social injustices going on.      

“The past four months have shed a light on the ongoing racial injustices facing our African American communities. Citizens around the country have used their voices and platforms to speak out against these wrongdoings.

“Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin, we’ve seen the horrendous video of Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, and the additional shooting of protestors. Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.

PALMETTO, FL- AUGUST 25: Lindsay Allen #15 of the Las Vegas Aces drives to the basket against the Dallas Wings on August 25, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.

“When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable. We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement.

“We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable. For this to occur, it is imperative for the Wisconsin State Legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform. We encourage all citizens to educate themselves, take peaceful and responsible action, and remember to vote on Nov. 3.”

As a country, the United States is teetering on its moral values and what it stands for.


“We are at an inflection point, Sen. Kamala Harris said during her historic speech at the Democratic National Convention in accepting the Democratic Party’s nominating her as the vice-presidential pick to presidential candidate Joe Biden. “The constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone. It’s a lot. And here’s the thing: We can do better and deserve so much more.”

For Black people, deserving better means not getting shot in the back by police just for sport the way Blake did. 

“I know people get tired of hearing me say it, but we are scared as Black people in America,” Lakers forward LeBron James said in a postgame press conference after his team defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 135-115 in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series. 

Focus and intensity: Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James has been a picture of focus throughout the NBA’s 2019-20 season, including the postseason. James scored 38 points and led the Lakers to a 116-108 Game 3 win against the Portland Trail Blazers in the team’s first-round playoff series. File photo/Mark Hammond for News4usonline

“Black men, Black women, Black kids…we are terrified because you don’t know. You have no idea. You have no idea how that cop that day left the house. You don’t know if he woke up on the good side of the bed. You don’t know if he woke up on the bad side of the bed. You don’t know if he had an argument at home with his significant other. You don’t know if his kids said something crazy to him and he left the house steaming or maybe he just left the house saying that today is going to be the end for one of these Black people. That’s what it feels like. That’s what it feels like. It hurts. It hurts, and it’s by the grace of God that he’s still living. Seven shots? At close range? And he’s still alive? That’s through the grace of God right there. My prayers go out to that family and that community, but I’ve got nothing nice to say about those cops at all.” 

The immediate fallout from all of this? Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball also had games postponed out of support for the NBA and WNBA actions. Several NFL teams canceled practices in solidarity. Tennis champion Naomi Osaka chose not to play her semi-final matchup in the Western & Southern Open. Osaka took to Twitter to express her thoughts on why she pushed back on playing.   

“Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman. And 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. I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction. Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach. I’m exhausted of having a new hashtag pop up every few days and I’m extremely tired of having this same conversation over and over again,” Osaka wrote.  

© Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline – Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers at an introductory press conference for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George at Green Meadows Recreation Center in South Los Angeles on July 24, 2019.

The National Basketball Players Association, through its Executive Director Michele Roberts, released its own statement on this fluid situation regarding the Bucks’ boycott and postponement of NBA games. 

“Throughout the season restart, our players have been unwavering in their demands for systemic justice. This week we witnessed another horrific, shocking, and all too familiar act of brutality in the shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Players have, once again, made it clear – they will not be silent on this issue. We stand with the decision of the players of the Milwaukee Bucks to protest this injustice and support the collective decision to postpone all of today’s games.”

Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers may have pushed things ahead of schedule with his strong speech against police brutality.

As far as the other situation, it’s just so sad,” Rivers said. “What stands out to me is just watching the republican convention, viewing this fear. All you hear is Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear. We’re the ones getting killed. 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. All you do is keep hearing about fear (tearing up). It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back. It’s really so sad. Like, I should just be a coach. I’m so often reminded of my color. It’s just really sad.”

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