The NBA Takes a Stand

The NBA, alongside the WNBA, has been a leader in social activism in professional sports. Following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, several NBA players decided to put phrases and demands on the back of their jerseys like “Black Lives Matter,” “How Many More” and “Education Reform.” A number of players, such as Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, have also decided to use their postgame interviews as a means of spreading the message of Black liberation, instead of talking about their own game. When interviewed after a monster 50-point performance against the Utah Jazz in Game six of the Western Conference playoffs, Murray said, “In life you find things of value to you, things to fight for, and we found something to fight for… as a collective unit.” His words along with the words of several others have paved the way for the NBA to take a massive stand in their fight for justice.

But the NBA’s activism did not end at post-game interviews or phrases on the back of players’ jerseys. Following the shooting of 29 year-old Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 23, the Milwaukee Bucks decided they had taken enough injustice. The Bucks decided to boycott their Game Five matchup with the Orlando Magic in hopes that they could force Wisconsin law enforcement into action in pursuit of justice for Blake. The team also came out with a statement read by guards George Hill and Sterling Brown. 

Brown, who was the victim of police brutality in January of 2018, was at the forefront of the statement due to his work off the court for racial justice. Brown has detailed his experience with the police in an article in The Players Tribune, in which he states that he was offered 400,000 dollars by the city of Milwaukee to push the case under the rug, to which he said, “I rejected the offer because I have a responsibility to be a voice and help change the narrative for my people. In order to do so I have to tell my story, so dialogue and conversations about police brutality can help influence and change a corrupt system.” Since his incident with the police, Brown has become a prominent voice in the fight for racial equality.  The Players Tribune reported that he and his brother Shannon (ex-Los Angeles Laker) began an organization called The Brown Brothers S.A.L.U.T.E Foundation that clothes, educates and feeds underprivileged members of the community. 

“Despite the overwhelming plea for change [in law enforcement], there has been no action so our focus today cannot be on basketball,” Brown said in the opening portion of the Bucks’ team statement.

Hill followed by demanding lawmakers and law enforcement hold themselves to the same high standards as professional athletes.

“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 lawmakers and law enforcement,” Hill said.

Hill’s contrast between the action of the players in the NBA and law enforcement was also noticed by ex-Monday Night Football anchor Booger McFarland, who took to Twitter to say that “Black athletes are tired of entertaining America when that same America doesn’t seem on so many levels to give a damn about black people, the NBA players are making a loud statement.” 

Several other political figures, athletes and others backed the Bucks decision to boycott Game Five. Kenny “The Jet” Smith, an anchor on TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” took a stand alongside the Bucks and left the set during a broadcast. 

“As a Black man, as a former player, I think it’s best for me to support the players, and just not be here tonight,” he said, and then walked off the set. 

Every other team remaining in the playoffs followed the Bucks lead and boycotted their games for a brief period. They also opened the door for teams in the WNBA, MLB and Major League Soccer to boycott some of their own games to stand up with the NBA. 

Although NBA games resumed on Aug. 29, the Bucks’ actions put the world on notice that the NBA will not stand for racial injustice, and if it persists, they will put the game they love aside in pursuit of change.