NBA Athletes Stand Together in Protest

Players, coaches and staff kneel during the national anthem before an NBA basketball game between the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)

Last week, the Orlando Magic took the floor inside the “NBA Bubble” to warm up before their playoff contest against the Milwaukee Bucks, but the Bucks never came out on the court, prompting the “postponement” of the playoff game. Instead, the team from Wisconsin gathered backstage to read a statement of protest.

Back in the locker area, Bucks players stood, in uniform, while George Hill read a statement: “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 at this moment, we are demanding the same from lawmakers and law enforcement. We are calling for justice… It is imperative for the Wisconsin state legislature to reconvene and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability and criminal justice reform…”

Bucks guard Sterling Brown added his voice publicly, saying, “Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin, we’ve seen the horrendous video… Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be basketball…”

The team ownership came out in support of the players. Marc Lasry, Wes Edens, and Jamie Dinan released this statement: “We fully support our players and the decision they made… The only way to bring about change is to shine a light on the injustices that are happening in front of us. Our players have done that, and we will continue to stand alongside them…”

Soon after, the NBA announced that all three playoff games slotted to be played and aired that evening were canceled. While many fans were left wondering if this might spark the end of the recently renewed NBA season, other athletes across other sports were making similar protest statements.

Prominent NBA luminaries, such as LeBron James and Clippers coach Doc Rivers, added their voices to the protest, prompting sports media and fans to wonder if two of the marquee teams in the playoffs – The Lakers and the Clippers – would follow Milwaukee in a walkout.

While James was typically terse in his response, Rivers’ heartfelt comments struck deep, being played repeatedly on sports media for most of the day Wednesday, leading up to the walkout: “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back,” Rivers said as part of an emotional media interview.

These comments, as well as the Bucks protest, prompted former President Barack Obama to weigh in: “I commend the players on the Bucks for standing up for what they believe in, coaches like Doc Rivers, and the NBA and WNBA for setting an example… It’s going to take all our institutions to stand up for our values…”

Meanwhile, tensions continued to rise as other players on other teams, including the Raptors and the Celtics, debated calling off their scheduled playoff games only a little over a month before the NBA restarted. Should the protests go forward, clear and direct communication will play a vital role in observing and understanding these decisions? While initial statements were emotional and in the moment, further messages should be about what to do going forward.